There are more than 60 trees along the north side of Railroad Avenue adjacent to Sabourin Field. Most are tall pines; there are also some oaks. For decades they have served as a backdrop for major events – not just football, soccer, and lacrosse, but also high school graduations, Relays for Life, even town meeting.
Now the Department of Public Works is targeting a number of these trees, to facilitate widening the existing sidewalk and fulfilling a portion of the town’s bicycle and pedestrian master plan. Director of Athletics Keith Mangan also would like to see removal of at least unhealthy trees removed for safety reasons, as he outlined to the School Committee last week.
The initial pushback is coming from the Bedford Arbor Resources Committee (BARC). The trees are “a beautiful backdrop, and provide shade on the track,” commented committee Chair Dan Churella. “I’m sure this will be an ongoing discussion. We don’t want to be chopping down trees unless there’s a good reason.”
Public Works Director David Manugian said last week he is hoping for “some synergy” among various town departments. “There is a variety of factors. We want to make sure everybody is on the same page before we put a shovel in the ground.”
The sidewalk project aims to create “a multi-use path,” he explained, which can connect the planned Minuteman Bikeway extension, which will traverse Railroad Avenue until it veers into the wood along the abandoned railroad bed, and the Jenks Nature Trail, which terminates at the middle school entrance.
It will be a challenge to realize this objective without disturbing at least part of the current environment. Several trees abut the existing sidewalk; a couple of times the path bisects a pair of trees. And there is also a stone wall between the sidewalk and the fence bordering the sports field. About 44 trees are outside the fence and 18 are actually inside the Sabourin Field compound. Most are behind the bleachers.
Churella said BARC last spring received plans that called for removal of 77 trees. “It was just a bad plan and it is being reworked,” he said.
He outlined the process. “DPW comes up with a plan. BARC does a site visit and provides feedback. There may be several rounds of BARC and DPW Meetings, and eventually BARC will look for public comment.” All this precedes a statutory hearing for the removal of public trees. “That would be the place where anything gets approved,” he said.
Manugian acknowledged that BARC members “expressed significant concerns. So as part of working with them we have gone back and tried to adjust the plans.” No follow-up meetings have been scheduled yet, he said, but he feels it is constructive for school officials to be informed at this point.
“It’s a multifaceted issue that has to balance the needs of the athletic department with the value of the trees,” Churella commented. “The trees have a value from an environmental perspective, a climate-change perspective, an aesthetic perspective, and a character-of-the-community perspective.”
Mangan said he recalls discussions beginning last fall about plans to widen the sidewalk. As athletics director, “I have some issues with some of the trees there,” he acknowledged. “Some are dead or in bad shape. Limbs are falling and needles get on the turf; it’s constant clean up. If we have a serious windstorm, one of those trees could knock out the bleachers, the new press box, and damage the field.”
He also said he is concerned “about pitch from pine trees damaging turf and the limbs that are down after every windstorm.” One could strike a spectator, he said, and he hopes compromised trees can be addressed.
Churella said BARC requires more information on the health of the trees. “BARC is not averse to removing trees that have issues,” he said. “My impression is that they’re not in bad shape. I think it is reasonable to look at the trees and prune back any branches directly over the grandstand and the press box, evaluate the health of the trees, and remove any in bad shape.”
“It is not reasonable to take down tall trees just in case they might fall someday,” he asserted. “Clearly nobody wants all that stand of beautiful big pine trees behind the stands to be taken down because that would be tragic.”
‘Trees are the single best and most effective mechanism to address both the causes and the effects of climate change,” Churella said. He added, “Bedford sees itself as a beautiful tree-lined approaching-rural community. But the fact of the matter is we are losing trees rapidly and the town plants very few trees.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763