Parks Defends Memorial’s Tree Plan
Beverly McDermott near a 19th century maple in Kissena Park.
By THERESA JUVA
When Samuel Parsons created one of the country’s premier tree nurseries in the 1870s, his pastoral paradise was filled with names like Japanese Katsura and Castor- Aralia, trees unfamiliar to most people, but considered arboreal treasures.
So when trucks rumbled through the historical grove in Flushing’s Kissena Park last week to start construction on the Korean War veterans’ memorial, arborists were horrified to learn that the century old timbers were irreversibly damaged by the contractor’s vehicles.
In 1991, Bruce McInnes was the first arborist hired to oversee tree protection in City projects. He said the problem is not the contractors, but how the Parks Department plans and budgets capital projects.
“We don’t expect better behavior from contractors,” Bruce McInnes said on Tuesday. “They are there to get in and get out. What’s disgusting to me is the fact that the Parks Department has known about these issues; they were reminded of the fragility of the landscape and the need for protection.”
McInnes said when trees are involved in other City projects, like bridge or sewer construction, the Parks Dept. requires the contractor to submit a tree protection plan for approval. But Parks’ own projects do not abide by those rules, McInnes said.
“Many people in the Parks forestry offices struggle every day to protect trees, (but) when it comes to capital division projects, they are told to shut up and stay out of it.”
Arborist and Flushing resident Carsten Glaeser documented 89 trees he said were damaged during the Kissena Lake restoration project in 2005.
The situation in Kissena Park Grove is particularly delicate, because the historical trees are clustered and their age and size mean their roots are widely extended, McInnes explained. The roots of the tree can grow two to three times the diameter of the tree’s crown—which is how far the dome of tree branches spreads out—and can unfurl about 100 feet around the trunk. The simple wooden frames placed on the trunks are not adequate protection, he said.
The real damage occurs when heavy trucks compact the soil in the area and squeeze the roots buried deep under the surface.
“We generally don’t see the full extent of damage for 8 to 10 years,” he said. He also noted that while compacted soil can be mitigated by adding a material that can break it up, the damage “can’t be corrected.”
Beverly McDermott, president of the Kissena Park Civic Association, said the problems with the construction of the memorial could have been avoided if the Parks Dept. had chosen a less vulnerable site, like near the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. She suggested this to project planners by arguing that it would be more visible in the large open space and its installation would be easier and less destructive.
“I got this cold stare from the Parks Department,” she said of one of the first project meetings in 2003. “They said this is already a done deal. I was met with a dead stone wall.”
Besides placing the memorial in a delicate area, she said the proposed landscaping, a strip of 40 feet of prairie grass in front of it, will be difficult to maintain because it can grow up to two feet, McDermott explained.
“It has to be mowed a certain way every year; it will invite rodents,” she said, adding that it will also attract garbage and serve as a toilet for park transients.
On Tuesday afternoon, when the ground in Kissena Park was still covered in late winter snow, she pointed to the majestic Castor-Aralia sitting in the middle of a site that she is worried will be disturbed when the nearby asphalt is lifted.
Dorothy Lewandowski, deputy parks commissioner for Queens, said the pavement will be hand excavated to ensure the tree is not disturbed. She added that with the exception of a few trees—a couple of beech and the Castor-Aralia—the memorial is not near the 80 other trees in the grove.
She emphasized that even though vehicles cut close to a towering 19th century Acer cappadocicum, a type of maple at the Parsons Boulevard entrance, the trees were not harmed.
“We don’t expect an impact on the historic trees,” she said Tuesday.
But McInnes said every Parks project should include an on-site arborist in the contract.
Lewandowski said the contract for the memorial includes a clause about tree protection, but McInnes said it’s not enough and is indicative a larger problem within Parks.
“It’s not an unfortunate turn of events,” he said of the meandering trucks last Monday. “It’s pervasive throughout capital projects.”