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Amherst officials: Old maple tree at Mount Pollux needs to go

  • The two maple trees at the top of Mount Pollux Conservation Area in South Amherst. —Submitted Photo

  • The maple tree that will soon be removed from the top of Mount Pollux Conservation Area in South Amherst.  Submitted Photo



Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

AMHERST — Two maple trees at the summit of the Mount Pollux Conservation Area have become an iconic representation of the former orchard in South Amherst.

But within the next few weeks, the more mature of the trees, which has been repeatedly struck by lightning and has a large cavity in its trunk, will be cut down.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said Monday that he recently alerted the Friends of Mount Pollux that the declining tree will have to be removed from the peak of the 23.61-acre site off South East Street because of the safety issues it poses.

“It’s lived a great life and brought joy to many people up there,” Ziomek said.

Both trees, in fact, were the inspiration for the name of the conservation area. Castor and Pollux were twins born to Leda in Greek mythology.

Amherst historian and writer Marjorie Atkins Elliott, who was born on a farmhouse at the foot of the hill in 1914, said in a 1997 interview that the summit inspired her poetry.

“I’ve stayed there alone and listened to the rise and fall of the wind. It’s interesting to hear how those two tall maples react to the north wind. It seems to me they converse when there’s going to be storm.”

Since its purchase by the town in 1984 from the Atkins family, Mount Pollux has been a popular place for picnicking and hiking, as well as viewing fireworks on Independence Day and even holding wedding ceremonies. A portion of the site has also been used for many years by local artist Lorna Ritz to paint the Holyoke Range’s Mount Norwottuck.

Ziomek said the tree scheduled for removal was assessed by both town land manager Bradley Bordewieck, who serves as tree warden in Bernardston, and Amherst tree warden Alan Snow. They determined that the tree is a hazard and has been significantly weakened, not only by lightning, but by human interactions, with campfires at its base.

“It’s caught on fire a number of times naturally, and by other means,” Ziomek said.

It would be costly to try to save a tree in decline, he said. The town explored ideas including cabling and selective pruning, along with protective fencing.

“There are extraordinary things we could do that would be very expensive, but that would not guarantee a longer life for the tree,” Ziomek said.

Ritz said in an email that if the tree begins losing branches and limbs, then it’s understandable why it would be removed.

“In that case, a replacement would be the best way forward, the type of tree to be determined democratically,” Ritz said.

In an email to the Friends group, member Thomas Johnson wrote that the decision to remove the tree is not unexpected, but that the old maple will be missed.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ll be headed up to the summit this week to pay my last respects,” Johnson wrote.

Ziomek said there are plans to fashion some of the wood from the tree into new seats and benches that will be installed near the summit, and to also cut small pieces that people can take home with them as mementos.

The town has been active in ensuring there will still be trees growing at the top of the site. Two additional maples already have been planted to the north, and Ziomek said he is open to working with the Friends group to put another maple at or near the same spot as the one that will be removed.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.