Forbes Library’s ailing stately oaks to come down

  • Richard Parasiliti, who is th tree warden for Northampton, points out trees slated to be removed at Forbes Library during a public meeting on the library lawn Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Two oak trees slated for removal form an arch over the Forbes Library exit road in Northampton. Below, Tree Warden Richard Parasiliti points out trees slated to be removed at Forbes Library during a public meeting on the library lawn Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS PHOTOS

  • Two oak trees near the corner of West and Green Streets are among five trees slated to be removed at Forbes Library. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—

Thursday, September 14, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — For the entirety of the 20th century, the oak trees in front of Forbes Library stood watch.

“They are the history of the library,” Northampton Tree Warden Richard Parasiliti Jr. said.

First planted in 1897 by founding trustee Arthur Watson, the trees may be among the oldest living things in Northampton. Now before the year is up, five of them will be no more.

Concerns about public safety led to the decision to remove the trees. Their fate was decided in a public hearing Wednesday outside the library, in full view of the oaks. In addition to the usual legal spaces for postings, including online, notices for the hearing were posted on the trees themselves.

Nevertheless, no public objections on the matter were submitted, and none was offered at the hearing itself. As a result, the hearing was finished within a matter of minutes, with the decision to remove the trees confirmed.

“Now we’re officially legal,” Parasiliti said.

He said all five oaks are in severe decline, with internal defects.

“The trees all have decay inside of them,” he said. “We need to remove the trees … before they end up actually injuring someone.”

He also noted that the trees dropped limbs in the Halloween snowstorm of 2011. Three of the original 13 oaks have already been removed due to declining health.

The problems with the trees can be traced back to 2006, when the state widened Route 66 and disturbed and exposed their root systems, kicking off their decline.

“The massive root systems were compromised,” he said.

Parasiliti said three of the oaks that will be removed are pin oaks and two are scarlet oaks, an evaluation that goes against the historical record that names all 13 oaks as pin oaks.

He also said that an effort would be made to preserve the five original oaks that will be left after the removals.

Lilly Lombard, who chairs the Northampton Public Shade Tree Commission, attended the hearing.

“It takes a lifetime to grow a mature tree,” Lombard said. “I think I’ll probably cry, when the trees come down.”

Earlier, she wrote an editorial in the Gazette publicizing the hearing, explaining the rationale for taking the trees down, and noting how the trees had personally contributed to her and her family’s decision to make Northampton their permanent home.

Forbes Library Director Lisa Downing also noted the “somber mood” of the matter. She brought a black and white photo of the library with small oak tree plantings in front of it to the hearing.

“They’re part of our history here,” she said, noting that rumor says that Watson planted them from acorns in his pocket.

She also noted how a young woman had arrived about 10 minutes after the hearing, looking for information about the matter, because she walks by the trees every day. Downing said she and Lombard had been able to explain the matter to the woman to her satisfaction, who she noted was sad to see the trees go.

“She was completely understanding,” Downing said.

Transforming the remains of the trees into commemorative objects, such as blocks or a table, was also talked about by both Downing and Parasiliti.

No date has been set for the trees’ removal. However, they will not go unreplaced, as eight scarlet oak trees have been purchased to bring the number of oaks in front of the library back up to 13. This planting will be accompanied by a ceremony this fall.

Parasiliti, who has lived in Northampton for more than 30 years, acknowledged the bittersweet nature of this.

“I will never see the trees that I plant get to mature to this size, and the people that planted these trees are long passed away, ” Parasiliti said.

“I’m saddened by the fact that I have to take them down, but I’m also excited about the fact that I can be part of planting new trees here that someone a hundred years from now will hopefully enjoy.”