Massive sycamore in front of Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden to come down this week

Massive sycamore in front of Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden to come down this week


MERIDEN — A massive, more-than-century-old sycamore tree in front of the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center on East Main Street must come down this week due to safety concerns, according to Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon, who is the city’s tree warden.

On July 29, city crews discovered a large limb had fallen from the tree, which is at least 100 feet tall and more than 18 feet around at its base. Reports suggest the tree may have been planted about the time Meriden’s old library, now the cultural center, was built over a century ago. Bourdon estimated the tree could be about 150 years old.

The fallen limb covered most of the Rosa Ponselle Memorial Park at the cultural center and was removed by city crews on July 31. Two state-licensed arborists who work for the parks and recreation department inspected the tree and found a hollow “danger zone” in the trunk about 35 feet from the ground, where most of the tree’s limbs are found, according to Bourdon.

Both arborists recommended the tree be taken down, “a decision they begrudgingly reached based on the tree’s age, size, prominence and location,” Bourdon wrote in an email last week to the mayor and city councilors.

A contractor with a 115-foot crane will work with city crews to remove the tree Wednesday and Thursday, Bourdon said. In the meantime, curbside parking and the sidewalk area under the tree are blocked as a precaution.

“As the tree warden it greatly saddens me to remove a tree of such stature, but the potential threat to injury and property damage has to be the main factor in making this decision,” Bourdon wrote in his email to city officials. “We will try to craft the remaining stump into a bench-like feature that will hopefully grace the property for many more years to come.

Bourdon said Monday the city had no concerns about the well-being of the tree before the limb fell down.

“These kinds of trees are very hardy,” he said, adding he was “shocked” to get a phone call about the fallen limb.

Regarding the age of the tree, Bourdon said it won’t be clear until it comes down.

“It’s a beautiful, majestic tree,” he said. “It’s just sad.”

According to state law, a municipality’s designated tree warden can order that a tree be removed due to safety concerns. Robert Ricard, senior extension educator for the University of Connecticut’s extension forestry program, said he often consults with municipal tree wardens across the state regarding tree removal. While he wasn’t familiar with the sycamore in Meriden, Ricard said he would remove it based on its age and the reported hollow area in the trunk.

Tree wardens are taught “if the tree is hollow, take it out,” Ricard said. “The premise is that the strength and support system of a solid trunk has been compromised.”

Often, groups advocate to save a damaged tree based on its age, he said, but “the older it is, the more likely it needs to come out.”

A tree warden’s primary responsibility is public safety, Ricard said. If an old tree is damaged in a wooded area, it may not be a risk and can be left alone, he said, but if the tree is in a heavily trafficked area, there is a public hazard that could lead to serious injuries and lawsuits.

According to Ricard, sycamore trees are native to Connecticut and thrive in urban areas because they evolved in river flood plains. They can tolerate low oxygen levels in soil, which occurs during flooding. Oxygen levels are also low in urban areas, but the sycamore can thrive. For example, the Pinchot sycamore in Simsbury, considered the oldest of its kind in the state, is located along a busy road just yards away from the banks of the Farmington River.

In urban areas, the trunk of a sycamore can start to hollow in spots due to root damage, Ricard said. Whether it’s from construction or other causes, damaged roots cause a tree to rot outward from its center. Other decay can play a part in furthering the damage, including fungi and insects.

Bourdon said he doesn’t want to replant a large tree in the same area. Instead of grinding the stump away so there is no indication the sycamore ever existed, he is proposing to memorialize it with some inspiration from “The Giving Tree,” a children’s book by Shel Silverstein that follows the lives of an apple tree and boy. Bourdon said he has read the book to his children hundreds of times.

As the boy grows, he spends less time with the tree, which continues to give parts of itself to make him happy. The boy grows older and returns to the remaining stump of the tree as an elderly man who just wants a place to sit. The tree gives the man a place to sit and rest, and the tree is happy.

Bourdon said he saw a recent report about a homeowner out West who cut a tree down and made the stump into a bench with an inscribed quote from “The Giving Tree” about how the man came to sit on the tree stump. Bourdon is suggesting a similar memorial for the sycamore tree. 203-317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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