Countdown to Deforestation

November 2, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

Parks Department, Coalition get to work in Franklin Park

PARKSIDE—The Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) says the park’s tree canopy will be gone in 30 years. The cities’ Parks and Recreation Department isn’t so sure. But both organizations recognize that maintenance of Boston’s largest park is an immediate priority, and they are getting to work.

The FPC predicts in the current draft of its Woodland Management Plan, the latest version of which was released last January, that, “The age and condition of the tree canopy in the park indicate that most of the large trees that define the park’s woodlands will be gone within thirty years.”

Heavy use and the establishment of invasive species have prevented the woodlands, which cover about 200 acres of the over 500-acre park, from fully regenerating themselves over the 125 years since they were originally planted, according to the report.

The Parks Department has not signed onto the coalition’s plan yet, said Parks Department Commissioner Antonia Pollak. But the FPC “may be right,” she said.

To determine what the best practices are for the rejuvenation of Franklin Park’s particular ecosystem, the city and the coalition have undertaken a demonstration project in the 21-acre Long Crouch section of the park.

“We are testing different techniques and strategies to see what’s the best way to go about revitalizing the entire park,” FPC Restoration Project Manager Lanae Handy said.

The city may support a future draft of the restoration plan following discussions at the end of the demonstration project, Pollak said.

According to coalition estimates, Franklin Park needs about $1.5 million in maintenance work. Handy cautioned that the current estimate is rough, based mostly on telephone estimates from contractors, and that unforeseeable factors, like a repeat of this summer’s drought, could cause complications.

At the same time, she said, the FCP is working to cut costs as much as possible, mainly by rallying volunteers to help with soil work, clearing invasive species and tree planting.

These three efforts, along with maintenance of existing trees, which must be handled by professionals, are the major chores that must be undertaken to insure the continued vitality of the forests, Handy said.

The degree to which FPC will be able to rely on volunteers, however, depends on exactly what the best practices for the restoration turn out to be, Handy said.

For example, the FPC is curious about whether it can promote and sustain new growth using “whips,” small trees that that are easy for volunteers to handle and transplant, or whether it will have to find funding to install mature trunks.

The project will also help determine things like how nefarious invasives will respond to changes in soil acidity and whether it is wiser to start invasive removal or soil work first, Handy said.

Pointing out that large sections of the park rest on shallow sub-layers of puddingstone, Pollak said it may even turn out to be more worthwhile to rethink which sections of the park should be targeted for reforestation.

“There are a lot of pieces,” Pollak said.

In the meantime, Long Crouch, a heavily used section of the park, is receiving a facelift.

Located in the northwest corner of the park, the area is home to the Bear Dens. Built in 1912, the dens housed their namesake species until the late 1950s when the sprawling Franklin Park Zoo was consolidated into its current 72-acre parcel.

These days, clearing out species that inhibit trees’ quality of life will hopefully help curb human quality-of-life concerns as well, Handy said.

“The invasives shielded a rock where people tend to engage in negative activities,” was how she put it.

The area around the dens has been cleared, Handy said. Over the entire swath, tree work—pruning limbs lost to decay rot and fungus—will begin over the winter, invasives will be cleared out by the end of the summer, and planting will begin in the fall, she said.

The restoration plan also includes calls for the remodeling of the section of the park’s cross-country track running through Long Crouch. “I think everything besides the path will be restored by the end of 2008,” Handy said. “And, depending on funding, that will be completed or at least will have begun by then.”

According to the draft restoration plan, the Long Crouch demonstration will cost a little over $90,000. Hiring a landscaper to restore the path, however, is one of many items with a cost still to be determined.

The city and the coalition are sharing the costs of the demonstration project, Pollak said.

In addition to proactive maintenance goals, the draft restoration plan outlines specific admonitions for Parks Department employees charged with maintaining the parklands.

The soil section of the report, for example, states, “Do not drive maintenance, golf or other vehicles in wooded areas or open areas with trees unless on paved path in order to alleviate soil compaction.”

In another section, workers are advised not to store heavy machinery in the park’s woodlands areas. Workers are also advised that tools used for cutting back invasives be thoroughly cleaned after use to avoid transporting their seeds.

One of the goals of the plan, Handy said, is to help the Parks Department, “better maintain the park. And part of it is coming up with some of these prohibitions on things they are doing that are damaging the woodlands.”

“We will look at all the recommendations in the plan and access them in terms of practicality,” Pollak said, “We have been working jointly on the plan, but we have to manage the park, they don’t.”