Meeting 5pm Today — Lippitt Park Tree Removal

cut tree There are certain people who believe that you can replace 40-year-old trees. . . tomorrow. And according to this morning’s Providence Journal, Mayor David Cicilline is one of those people. Kudos to the neighbors who immediately got on the horn to City Hall and the ProJo, and managed to halt the recent wholesale tree-cutting at Lippitt park, eight down so far. That’s bad enough, but the city plans to clear at least 20 more, and all of this is to fix the fountain. Area residents thought repairing the fountain was a grand idea but who could have imagined it would involve clearing this enormous swath of mature trees. George Schietinger, the President of the Summit Neighborhood Association, makes several unconvincing arguments about Norway maples being invasive (irrelevant in a managed city park), not being part of the original landscape plan (who cares now), and that the shallow roots make it hard for grass to grow. I’ll bet that’s his major concern right there — he’s one of those lawn guys. Yes, let’s plant more turf grass that needs to be mowed and watered and fed. There’s plenty of open lawn on the south side of the park already.

That Parks and Recreation Superintendent Robert McMahon could have okayed this boneheaded desecration, and not have foreseen that people would go crazy, speaks volumes. It tells me he may be the wrong man for that position. Mature trees can not just be replaced.

Come express your outrage and help stop further execution of this idiotic plan. Bring pitchforks/torches.

Wednesday, 5pm, Lippitt Park, north end of Blackstone Blvd at Hope Street

Lippitt Park

View toward Hope Street

tree poster

posters nailed to stumps

25 thoughts on “Meeting 5pm Today — Lippitt Park Tree Removal”

  1. Thomas Schmeling


    I’m pretty sure we are listening to one another. Information is being offered on both sides and readers can make up their own minds after tomorrow when, I also hope that decision makers will bring all the facts forward.

    Just out of curiosity, who are the “some participants” that you think are not listening?

  2. I’ve come late to this discussion, but I can clearly see that there are some participants who might be hearing the other side, but are not listening. This should be an interesting meeting. My only request is that those attending, including the decision makers, bring relevant facts and documentation. Dates of meeting, attendance, communications with City Forester, US Forestry recommendations… just to name a few.

  3. Thomas Schmeling


    I’m not sure I get the comparison to lighting up unfiltered Camels.

    Nobody is arguing that we should plant more of these, but cutting down (many) healthy trees is not the same. Because of their location, these trees will contribute nil to the spread of the species. Cutting them down will, however, take away many concrete and present benefits (shade, oxygen, shielding the fountain from the street so it doesn’t feel like a traffic island, etc).

    I don’t agree that your position, as opposed to mine, is based on a longer view. I’m perfectly happy to see them replaced when they die off naturally, even replaced a few at a time over a very long term.

    You and others might be interested to note that Ray Perrault, the Director of Trees 2020 strongly disagrees with removing these trees:

    “The removal of the Lippett Park trees has nothing to do with the Trees 2020 program. In fact, we were totally unaware of the plan for the fountain. I was as surprised as anyone about this and would have vigorously opposed it. My stance on tree removal is that we plant young trees, and only after they have reached some size do we remove older ones. The only exception would be for diseased, dying and dangerous trees.”

  4. Well back in the 50’s (admittedly before my time) most were not elightened as to nature of Invasive species and loved the trees “orientation” to grow fast and easily. Most federal and state agencies that now promote the ban and removal of invasive species actually promoted the planting of Norway Maples to replace diseased elms, kudzu to fight soil erosion and many other forms of plant life they now tell us not to plant and remove if possible. The 50’s was also a time when cigarettes were promoted as giving us “energy” and seat belts in cars was thought of as frivolous. But of course times change. But, if you are so inclined, drive down to the park unbelted, run across the grass with scissors sit down in the dirt and light up a Camel (unfiltered of course).

    Healthy trees are not cut down but diseased, aging and week trees are. Unfortunately, many of the Norway Maples around the City are falling into this category. I would think that the condition of the trees at Lippitt were taken into consideration like all other trees on public property. I am not an aborist so I can’t tell you as to the condition of the trees at Lippitt. But the partial removal does show remaining trees with dead and denuded limbs, fungus and other signs of distress. If these were not an invasive species the time, effort and cost to save them might be worth it. If it doesnt cost the taxpayers additonal money and the City caves in (obviously my opinion) the remaining trees should be inspected by an independent arborist to determine their health and condition as well as their benefit to the local habitat.

    I consider myself an environmenalist. I believe in organic farming and landscaping practices. I believe that herbicides and pesticides are a last resort and there had still better be a good reason for it. I think “lawn guys” are silly and that landscaping should be a more natrual extension of the world around us. I am not big on exotic plants in general.

    Tom, you are right, many species of plant life are alellopathic. But evolution has allowed checks and balances to develop that maintain the biodiversity of native habitats. No one species is really allowed to get the upper hand. When non native species are introduced that balance can be upset. In this case you have an alellopathic species that out competes native ones. Not only can plant life can be impacted but wildlife dependent on native species for food and shelter may also be adversely impacted.

    I concede that the Norway Maple is a pretty tree and these are trees in a maintained park. But the seedlings from these trees spread out from this park, and those trees spread their seeds out farther still. Eventually, they reach upland habitats and grow unabated at the expense of natural species in that habitat. I admit my opinion is based on a long view and bigger picture mentality and understand that people may disagree with this. I am glad that a few people on this site have taken the time to read up on the science and will show up to the meeting with information as opposed to pitch forks and torches.

  5. Thomas Schmeling

    I’m sure learning a lot I didn’t know about trees here. Out of curiosity, do any of the people who are so adamantly against Norway Maples have any special expertise or training in this area?

    One thing I just learned by reading on the web, for instance, is that Norways are not alone in being allelopathic (releasing toxins to suppress competition). Other allelopathic trees are red oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, laurels, black walnuts, forsythias and (Dan?) sugar maples.

  6. Thomas Schmeling


    I assume you mean that Norways are removed when they die, are diseased or lift concrete. I would not object to removing any of the park maples for the same reason. However, I feel confident that the city is not going around cutting down healthy Norway maples and trust you’re not asserting otherwise. Am I correct?

    I think your assumption that the trees left standing in the site plan are new trees is not correct. Look at the plan and look at the trees around the fountain not marked for removal. Looks like the same trees to me.

  7. The Other JB

    When I was growing up there was no negative connotation to the word ‘Norway Maple’, and kids used “invasive, phytotoxin-leaching plants”, in a way similar to “native New England species”- there was no connection to a tree’s orientation. This being the 1950’s none of us really knew anything about Norway Maples. It was something obliquely referred to or snickered at.
    In high school (1960-63) there were some open Norway Maples, a few male Norway Maples and three Norway Maple gym teachers. I don’t recall any of the male Norway Maples being harrassed. They were considered a curiosity. The three female Norway Maples all were pretty tough cookies as I recall.

    I have a cousin who is a Norway Maple and the whole time we were growing up I had no clue. He only acknowledged it in his mid-twenties.

    I think Norway Maples nowadays have it a whole lot easier not having to be worried that “someone will find out” in many cases, although I guess it remains a serious fear for some.

  8. I was not involved in the landscape planning for the fountain area but I know the invasive nature of the Norway maple has been known for years. The City removed the Norway maple from the inventory of allowable street trees, does not allow them in the Trees 2020 program and given an opportunity to remove Norway Maples from the existing street tree inventory does so. I am guessing that this was just another opportunity to do so. Again. Just because an invasive species propagates doesn’t mean we keep it. If kudzu were allowed to propagate in this park and created a nice shady area underneath, I wouldn’t keep that either.

    The site plan on Facebook showed trees around the fountain. I assumed they were new trees to be planted not old ones to remain. The reason? Its hard to remove “a few at a time” because the remaining trees will still leach phytotoxins into the soil making it hard for native species planted adjacent to or under it to survive. I am not making this stuff up. All this information is readily available online.

    I agree there are personal opinions around aesthetics. But speaking for myself, if these were a species that did not cause detrimental harm to the native habitat I would be for trimming them back and possibly removing some trees to allow those remaining to develop a more natural canopy that the current layout does not allow. You can tell that by the fact that trees adjacent to the ones removed have dead limbs where the trees that were just removed grew alongside. They were battling each other for dominance.

    I also believe the State of Rhode Island should follow the lead of both NH and MA and ban the Norway maple and other species of invasive plants from being sold, grown, propagated or transported. Like the National Park Service, the US Forestry Service, the Defenders of Wildlife and even the Nature Conservancy, I feel that invasive plant and animal species should be removed and replaced with native habitat whenever possible.

  9. Thomas Schmeling

    I also live right by the park and am in it every day of the year. I oppose removing any trees that do not clearly have to go for practical reasons. Some thinning might have made sense, but that is not the goal of the current plan.

    I’m not sure I buy that things would be so different if these were sugar maples. Coryndon’s notes on facebook regarding the reasons for removal do not mention at all the invasiveness of this species as a reason. This issue seems to have come up only lately and smells post-hoc to me.

    Witness that these trees grew in the park for 35 years before it suddenly became necessary to remove them to prevent an infestation. The park and the yards for miles in any direction are managed and nothing is going to pop up in them overnight. The comparison to zebra mussels and asian carp thus does not seem appropriate. If you’re worried about the woods in Swan Point, please tell me how many Norway Maples are already growing in there? I don’t believe that cutting down these trees will have any effect on the number of Norway Maples in the area.

    So, it seems to come down, as Dan’s post indicates to a question of aesthetic values. Dan finds the hard packed soil under the trees obnoxious. I, on the other hand, prefer a cool, shaded fountain area that is shielded from passing traffic. The trees overhead, whatever you think of the species, are as beautiful as any other maple. I wish they had planted a different species, but these are much better than few or no trees. That’s my view, anyway. We’ll find out on Wednesday how widely my view or Dan’s is shared.

    People keep talking about a “plan to replace the trees”. I do not believe that there was or is any such plan. The plan I have read about (on Facebook) and the drawing shown there indicates removal of trees and nothing about replacement. I have also been told that nothing was budgeted for replacement. The mayor mentioned replacing the 8 trees that were cut last week, but that was because of the outcry and not because of planning.Do you know otherwise, Dan?

    The goal seems clearly to remove all the trees between the fountain and Hope and the Boulevard and to drastically reduce the rest, and the type of tree is irrelevant.

    Even if you wanted to replace the trees with other species, why not cut a few at a time and replace them over a long term? Why clear-cut the whole group at once?

    As for the threat to the fountain foundation, it seems that none of the trees downed last Thursday pose such a threat. the trees are very far from the fountain and most are far from the sidewalks as well. If you walk around looking for evidence of damage from roots you will find almost none. The rate of growth of these trees can’t be what it was when they were younger, can it?

  10. Initial gut reaction would tell most people to defend these beautiful trees at all cost. However, those reactions are not serving the future.

    All the valuable and very true info about Norway maples, they defend their turf by making the soil at their base toxic, so nothing grows beneath them.

    Also, take a look at the canopies. These trees are near the end of their life span. Their growth is irregular and there are numerous dead branches in all of them.

    If any of you defenders ever got hit with a falling tree branch, you’d sue the city so fast our heads would spin.

    Getting rid of the Norways and planting a more appropriate species is the best direction to go for the future.

    Norways are one of the nastiest trees out there, I’m sorry but it’s true.

    Think about the children.

  11. If these were sugar maples I am sure they would not have been touched and I would have been standing right along with those objecting. You are right. There are many invasive species already rooted (parden the pun) in this country. Some species like kudzu and hydrilla (while not in RI) propogate at such a rate and are so hostile to native plant life that eradication is usually swift and harsh and unfortunately a never ending battle. You will see in my previous responses that both state and federal agencies have come down against the Norway Maple.

    I live right near the park and while I understand the reasons why people like them, I am not sorry to see them go. Nothing grows underneath them. The soil is hard packed and their roots run along the surface (which is a common trait of this species) After a good rain you can’t even enjoy that area of the park because the dirt turns to a muddy mess and attracts mosquitos. The plan, as I have seen, is to replace the 20 or so trees that are actually crowded together in a very contained area with better placed native species chosen for their ability to grow fast both in height and in canopy. While there will be a transition for the next few years while this happens I still feel the park will be a more enjoyable place in the long run. There are plenty of places in this park where one can sit more pleasantly in the shade and in fact most do.

  12. Cien, you are the one who seems to be misinformed and ignorant. First off it is not an ELM it is a Norway Maple. The native elm was decimated decades ago by Dutch Elm Disease…which by the way was brought into this country by an invasive species of beetle. The Norway Maple is an invasive species. It is a BANNED species in neighboring MA and NH. A study was completed recently in New Jersey that demonstrated that when a Norway Maple stand takes root in an area native species are slowly but inevitably crowded out. Its not the 40 year old tree. Its the seedlings from it that get carried into neighboring forest areas. Once a new Norway Maple takes root it releases toxins into the soil that retard the growth of all other plants around it in order to propagate its own. That’s why if you go to Lippitt Park and take a walk under these trees you will see nothing else growing under these trees. Take a walk into the forested sections of Swan Point Cemetery…You will see the same thing. It has already invaded which is why those who “know this ecosystem” want to see its spread curtailed if not eradicated.

    You seem to be the republican here taking the “survival of the fittest” approach. If these other species can’t pull their weight let them die. The government shouldn’t be involved assisting with “propping up” these obviously lesser species. Hmmm…maybe you are onto something…enough of this welfare program for biodiversity. Let those who can’t take care of themselves just die.

  13. Annie Messier

    Jennifer, have there been plans to relocate mature trees to the spot, or should visitors to Lippitt plan on hot, bare landscaping until new trees mature in several years/decades? Would the same plans have been made if Norwegian maples weren’t invasive? (Quite a few RI plants and animals are invasive, but I don’t see anyone knocking down sparrows’ nests in the park, either.) I don’t live in the community, but my curiosity has been piqued.

  14. Which is why the National Park Service and the US Forestry Service both advise that the tree no longer be planted and that existing trees be removed when possible. Its also why the tree is now banned in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire because it is crowding out and replacing the the native Sugar Maple. Just because an invasive species has taken root and is thriving at the expense of native species is no reason to throw up your hands and give up. Kudzu, hydrilla, asian carp, zebra muscles…all are thriving and reducing the biodiversity of our native ecosystem. When it is possible to remove offending species and replace it with something that is better for the enviroment it should be done

  15. Jennifer Luxmoore

    There were many meetings in regards to the fountain project. During those meetings what needed to happen to get the fountain running, what people wanted to see from the fountain project as well as money, departments ect. Were discussed. The last meeting is where the final plans, were shown and the people who had been attending the meetings had a long discussion about the plans and tree removal. They agreed to the project. If you don’t attend meetings and leave decisions up to others, then you have to trust that they know the process and that they have made informed decisions. If you don’t trust the process then you need to be involved. The fact that they are stopping the process and letting the community (again) discuss this, shows how much they want the people to be involved. But this is also the reason why things take so long and cost so much, because there are so many late comers to the event, when if they were involved in the first place it wouldn’t happen like this.

  16. Thomas Schmeling

    Thanks, Coryndon. I just looked at your SNA facebook post (Which I just saw Friday) where you say “about 20”.

    But just to clarify, since it keeps coming up…. There was one public meeting with about 10 neighbors attending?

    I’m not sure these details are very important. As regrettable as it is that more people (including me) didn’t hear about/were not able to attend the first meeting, the response over the last few days makes it clear that the community does not feel that it was adequately informed. Hopefully, that can take place on Wednesday.

  17. Thomas Schmeling


    You mention “meetings”. Was there more than one meeting at which the cutting of trees was mentioned? I had only heard of one, which was attended by 10 or so people.

    If you were present, was the number of trees to be cut down (28 of the 37 around the fountain) mentioned? I ask because, though I was unable to attend the (one, I thought) meeting, I did ask attendees and got no indication that the scope of removal was nearly as broad as what the City subsequently undertook.


  18. Jesse C. Polhemus

    Beth, I’m a longtime PDD reader, but your post and subsequent comments contain such an incredible amount of misinformation, bias, and assumption that silence is a better answer than punching a tar baby. You’ve served your readers, whatever their reason for coming here (journalism, responsible activism, pleasure, discourse) very, very poorly.

  19. No, I was unaware of these meetings. But is it too much to hope that enlightened leadership could shepherd this project properly through? Mr McMahon is well-compensated for his knowledge and expertise (although he seems to have educated himself for a career in government rather than park management). He seems to have allowed 10 random abutters to green-light this project. But this isn’t a neighbor’s deck extension, this is a city park used by people (taxpayers) from all across the east side, and the whole city.

  20. Jennifer Luxmoore

    Beth, I’m assuming that you were at the fountain meetings and expressed your concern and anger about the changes that were scheduled to happen? And I’m sure pitchforks and torches will always help the situation.

  21. That horse left the barn years ago, Norway maples are found everywhere throughout the city and state.

  22. Coy you are bringing in an irrelevancy in order to water down the issue. Nice Republican technique.

    And exactly where is a 40 year old ELM tree invading?

    If you can’t identify an elm tree the WTF do you know about anything to do with this ecosystem?

    Nice trying to sound smart but instead you are elevating your ignorance for all to see like it is something YOU are proud of.

  23. “irrelevant in a managed city park”

    I’m sorry but it is not irrelevant. Birds carry the seeds to woodlands all around.
    I don’t like seeing trees cut down, but invasive plant species DO need to be managed.

  24. The city and the parks department certainly foresaw this issue and the plan was reviewed with the local neighbors several weeks ago and this was the primary topic of discussion.

    You can see the notes and plan pictures here:

    I encourage people to come to the meeting but constructive understanding of the situation instead of knee jerk assumptions would be helpful to make sure all sides are heard.

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