A number of these Norway maple trees along Parsons Beach Road are suffering from severe decay and disease, and must be removed, Kennebunk town officials say. Credit: Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNK, Maine — The town of Kennebunk will hold a meeting with members of the Parsons family next week after outcry from some members of the family and the public arose over the town’s plans to cut down and replace a number of the iconic Norway maple trees along Parsons Beach Road.

The sweeping row of trees that lines Parsons Beach Road has been a beloved landmark in Kennebunk for decades, and the historical significance is one people want to preserve for as long as they can, said Peggy Liversidge, a member of the Parsons family who attended a special meeting of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen and Tree Committee on Tuesday, scheduled after word of the town’s plans for the trees raised concerns.

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“The beauty and tranquility provided by this stretch of road with its leafy canopy, is a cathedral-like natural setting of grace and beauty,” Liversidge said. “I would like to suggest that we take a step back, analyze all options and approach the changes to the landscape with an eye towards evolution – not revolution.”

Many of the old trees are diseased and have severe decay, posing a threat to public safety, according to Town Manager Mike Pardue.

A licensed arborist from Urban Tree Service in Rochester, New Hampshire, evaluated the trees, issuing a report in December 2010 noting that nearly all of the trees had “physical defects, storm damage, or declining health issues that will require remedial actions and/or removal.”

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Wayne Cutting, a member of the town’s Tree Committee and the town tree warden, said they began working on a phased solution for the trees in 2011. According to Director of Community Development/Town Engineer Christopher Osterrieder, a number of Norway Maple trees were removed in the first phase of the project in 2012 and replaced with Swamp White Oak.

The town did a site walk with Parsons family members Larry Dwight and his daughter Louise Dwight Spang last fall, shortly before Larry Dwight passed away, and Pardue said they thought all was well until this week. The town has worked closely with representatives from the Parsons family, Pardue said, but apparently not all were aware that several trees were slated for removal on Monday, April 1.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, Parsons family member Julia Burns Riley said she first learned of the recently scheduled tree removal in an email sent last Friday. She said the family cares very much about the safety issues the town is facing with the trees, but would like to be part of the process of planning the removal if needed, and part of the discussions on what trees will replace them.

“We have family members who are irate. This is more about the process that has gotten us to this point. We care about the safety and we want to be a part of that solution for sure,” she said.

Riley took to Facebook Sunday in an attempt to raise awareness in the community that the trees were slated for removal Monday morning.

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“We did not want trucks coming down on Monday and cutting trees down, because you can’t go back from that,” she said.

Members of the community quickly rallied online, posting comments and e-mailing the Board of Selectmen and Tree Committee members saying they were upset that the trees were to be removed.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Dick Morin said this created an environment for a lot of misinformation and Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled to address that.

Cutting felt attacked by the barrage of angry emails he said he and other committee members received. He said the efforts of the committee all centered around recreating the sweeping allay, or tunnel effect one feels when the trees are leafed out with a healthy, hearty species of tree that will thrive in the environment.

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“I was trying to recreate this vista because those trees are going to continue to crumble,” Tree Committee member Bob Palmer said.

“I take offense to all of this. We know what we are talking about, we have over 100 years of experience on this committee and I find it offensive that we are being questioned,” Cutting said.

Riley said she felt bad that the committee members felt their expertise and efforts were questioned, and hoped they would not take it personally and would work with the family.

Selectman Blake Baldwin who serves as the liaison to the Tree Committee said the access the public enjoys to Parsons Beach is through the kindness and generosity of the family, and the town needs to find the right channels of communication to work with them.

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“We also need to safeguard the safety of the people in the town and we are on notice that those trees are in bad shape,” Baldwin said.

A drive down Parsons Beach Road shows stark evidence of the poor shape the old Norway maples are in. Parsons Beach Road and the trees are town-owned property, and are maintained by the town. Pardue said the town is concerned about the safety of the public.

The 2010 arborist report notes that the life expectancy of the Norway maple is only about 100 years at best, and estimated that the larger trees at Parsons Beach were very close to 100 years nearly 10 years ago.

Norway maples are considered an invasive species, according to Cutting, and have been banned from sale in the state of Maine.

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Cutting said the committee applied for and gained approval for a grant for up to $8,000 from the state to replace the trees, and they chose Swamp White Oaks as the species to plant for a number of reasons.

“There are environmental concerns down there. You’re very close to the road, so there’s road salt and salt spray from the ocean, and there are high winds. Most notably we chose not to go with the native red maple, which might have been a good choice down there, because of the horse farm,” Cutting said. “Apparently maple leaves are toxic in one form or another to horses.”

He said there aren’t a lot of choices in quality shade trees that would work in that environment.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Riley said she appreciated the expertise and hard work of the Tree Committee and was satisfied with the outcome for now, noting that the family will put together a proposal to be discussed at next week’s meeting.

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The Parsons Beach Association is made up of 60 descendants of George and Charles Parsons, the two brothers who originally owned the Parsons Beach area and have passed the property down through six generations dating back to the mid 1800s. Riley, who serves as the marketing person for the association, said the family would likely be on board with contributing financially to a plan for replacing the trees that need to be removed with larger new trees and would like to be a part of the process to restore the treeline.