Metal fence proposed to protect 400-year-old Buttonball Tree in Sunderland

  • A plaque recognizes the Buttonball Tree on North Main Street (Route 47) in Sunderland as having been alive when the U.S. Constitution was signed. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The existing sidewalk past the Buttonball Tree on North Main Street (Route 47) in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The historic Buttonball Tree on North Main Street in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Buttonball Tree on North Main Street (Route 47) in Sunderland, an American sycamore, dwarfs other full-grown trees around it. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/18/2021 9:54:59 AM

SUNDERLAND — Since local citizens voiced concerns about an upcoming road reconstruction project and its potential impact on the historic Buttonball Tree, the town has negotiated putting up a metal fence around the tree and designating a “tree protection zone” during the work.

Select Board member Tom Fydenkevez said at a board meeting last week that he and Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz met at the Buttonball Tree on April 9 with a representative from the state Department of Transportation, the contractor for the project, arborists and others to consider ways to protect the tree, an American sycamore on North Main Street (Route 47) believed to be roughly 400 years old.

A plaque, embedded in a rock in front of the tree, states the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture in 1987 jointly recognized the tree as having been in Sunderland when the U.S. Constitution was signed 200 years earlier.

“Not to say things may not change, but the first thing is the town has negotiated with the contractor and we’re going to be putting a metal fence to designate the tree protection zone around the Buttonball Tree to better define it,” Fydenkevez said. “We also are strongly considering eliminating the turnoff that’s presently there.”

Fydenkevez explained that one of the reasons for tree failure after construction is the compaction of the soil.

“People pulling off the road is really not a great thing for the survival of the tree long-term,” he said.

The meeting with the contractor followed a demonstration on April 5, where residents gathered at the tree to advocate for its protection during the upcoming road construction project, which will involve widening nearby sidewalks and replacing a storm drain under the road. The project is expected to be mostly completed by October.

“We also talked about the sidewalk,” Fydenkevez said. “It was suggested that the sidewalk next to the tree (the portion between the two driveways it sits between), as presently constituted, there’s no real reason for taking that asphalt and concrete out of there.”

Alternatives are still being considered, he said, including building out the sidewalk with materials that ensure it matches the grade of the existing sidewalk.

“There’s some discussion right now — trying to look at what would be the least disruptive to the tree going forward,” said Kravitz, who will be in conversation with arborists over the next several weeks.

He added that in addition to the protection around the Buttonball Tree, the town has also discussed providing protection for any of the smaller trees with a diameter of 15 inches.

“The smaller diameters would still have stakes and caution tape, and whatever existing fence is already there,” he said. “We’re also going to try to get signage for the fence, identifying it as a tree protection zone.”

Fydenkevez noted its important for people to understand the project itself will require digging and trenching, and trench boxes.

Still, he said, the town welcomes input from the public.

“The more eyes that are on the job, the more people that ask questions — I think we’ll get a better job,” Fydenkevez said. “No one should feel their input is not valued, because it is.”

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