Woods clearing leads to preservation plan


Courtesy Photo
The Arborway is exposed to view after woodland was extensively clear-cut by the state in February.

ARBORWAY—A little-known Arborway woodland was extensively clear-cut, saving only very large trees, by state workers last month as part of an unannounced cleanup. The Arborway Coalition gathered local residents—whose initial reaction ranged from shock to gratitude—on the site Feb. 24 to discuss a possible maintenance plan and a partnership with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The woodland is on an embankment between the inner and outer Arborways, roughly from the Casey Overpass to just past St. Rose Street and across from Arnold Arboretum. A dirt path runs through the site. About two-thirds of the site
was cleared out before DCR put the work on hold in response to community concerns.

“That area had become really overgrown and litter-strewn,” said DCR spokesperson Wendy Fox. “I think it had become an eyesore and sort of a hazard.” She noted the site had large amounts of poison ivy and the invasive species Oriental bittersweet, as well as signs that at least one homeless person was living in the undergrowth.

However, the extent of the clearing surprised even some residents who had clamored for a cleanup, said the Arborway Coalition’s Sarah Freeman.

“It’s good intentions…without guidelines,” she said of the cleanup. She praised DCR for the overall effort and said she looks forward to partnering with the agency on the site. “In general, we appreciate the strides that have been made and that DCR has been responding and listening,” she said.

“It’s a short-term clearing solution, and it’s not a long-term maintenance solution,” said Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, who was invited to advise the Arborway Coalition about the site. Franklin Park is undergoing its own massive forest restoration and maintenance study, including public-private partnering.

Freeman said the Arborway Coalition aims to hold a public meeting with DCR officials within the next two months about a vision for the site and maintenance ideas.

The Arborway is technically a “parkway,” a combination park and roadway overseen by DCR.

Some residents were shocked when DCR crews began clearing the site Feb. 2. St. Rose Street resident Tita Wernimont, who calls the area “The Oaks” and considered it an urban wild, said she got the crews to stop working several times as part of an effort to get community input into the plan, only to see crews out cutting again. Fox acknowledged there was “miscommunication” about the work.

In a Feb. 12 letter to state officials, Wernimont also thanked DCR for its cleanup attention, asking only for modification and input. Several other residents were also grateful. “Some people brought coffee and doughnuts to the workers,” Fox noted.

“It’s jarring to suddenly see a change,” Fox said. “Change is hard.”

Freeman said the woodland was known for “groups of young people partying and skunks and coyotes and broken glass.”

“On the other hand, undergrowth provides screening from traffic and noise and creates the sense of being away from the urban environment,” Freeman said, noting the site also had such unusual flora and fauna as grapes and goldfinches.

“As with most things, the answer was probably somewhere in the middle,” she said.

The cleared part of the site certainly looks different. Formerly dense with plants, it now is essentially a lawn dotted with large trees. The ground is covered with sharp, uneven stubble and a few large stumps, one roughly 18 inches in diameter.

But that will also change. Fox said the woodland likely will be allowed to grow back to some degree. Asked if DCR is leaning more toward an open-lawn model or an urban wild model, Fox said, “It’s probably going to be somewhere in between. I think all of this will also be discussed with the neighbors a little bit more.”

“We would like to find an environmental management strategy that accomplishes cleaning it up while preserving the rural quality of these woods,” Wernimont wrote in her letter.

Poff said the clear-cutting presents some challenges. “It could invite invasives,” she said. “It could cause some pretty serious erosion.” And the remaining plant stubble could sprout into ungainly bushes, she said.

Some replanting might be necessary, Poff said, but acknowledged that DCR probably can’t do much of that. The key, she said, is coming up with a vision that balances public safety and woodland preservation in a way that can be realistically maintained.

That vision may not be obvious, Freeman noted, pointing out that sometimes a preferred image of a woodland actually isn’t sustainable or healthy. She noted that forests are always changing, and such challenges as invasive species were already present on the Arborway site.

“I’m a tree-hugger. I’ll claim that title,” Freeman said. But, she added, “It takes a lot of work to keep a place looking like it’s always been that way and rustic and natural.”

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