Park Community Determined to See DEEP Reconsider Meadow Plan

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Tyler Methot of Hamden said he grew up visiting the tree and that he'd hoped to someday push baby Mackenie, 8 months, on its famed swing.

Tyler Methot of Hamden said he grew up visiting the Hickory and that he’d hoped to someday push baby Mackenzie, 8 months, on its famed swing.

When the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection destroyed a popular hickory that stood at the center of a Hamden meadow in  West Rock Ridge State Park this winter, it said it did so to discourage the presence of people and predators for the benefit of ground-nesting songbirds.

“Loss of Tree Stirs Emotions, Sparks Anger”

Except, pilgrimages to the now sap-beaded stump increase daily and hawks still hunt without a “central vantage point,” leaving outraged park-goers questioning the DEEP’s logic … and turning the locally beloved tree into a martyr.

And outrage is not too strong a word for the atmosphere clouding this northern section of the park  — as evidenced by a note penned on one section of the ruined tree.

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One of many sections of tree, limbs and crown CT DEEP workers used to redirect one of the park’s trails.

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DSC_0140Because, aside from what it describes as “wasteful stupidity” and “mean-spirited,” much of the public’s dismay has to do with the CT DEEP’s decision to change the way people have traditionally enjoyed the park … without disclosing its plans and giving the community a chance to speak up for the tree.

 Even the West Rock Ridge State Park Advisory Council  says it was left out of the decision making process, finding itself, in the words of council member Ted Lynn, “shocked and saddened by the tree’s destruction.”
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Lynn, who also serves as president of the West Rock Ridge Park Association, lamented, “I am still trying to get my head around why anyone would think cutting down a 100-year-old landmark tree is a solution to anything. That, and why the DEEP would do something this drastic without bringing it before the council.”
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Sometimes a tree has roots that grow deeper than CT DEEP perceives. The Hickory as it once stood in a meadow at the northern end of WRRSP photo by Nancy Specht, Hamden CT

Sometimes a tree has roots that grow deeper than CT DEEP perceives. 
– photo by Nancy Specht, Hamden CT

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Lynn explained, “Procedures required under the 1975 state statute that created the park were not followed by CT DEEP. That statute, (S.A. NO. 75-80), states ‘the Advisory Council shall advise the state commissioner of environmental protection on matters affecting the development and
maintenance of the park.'”

According to the WRRSP Association’s website, the 1,700 acre park “is the only one in the state that requires the DEEP to consult with a citizen’s advisory council on action proposed within the park’s boundaries. The Advisory Council, set up by the legislation that created the park, consists of three representatives from each of the four towns that share the ridge (one each from planning, zoning, conservation and the executive board.) The governor appoints three additional at large members and the DEEP commissioner serves as chair.”

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Bill Doheny, Jr., (80), Hamden,  one of the original three co-creators of the park, a founding member of its association and the current vice chair of its advisory council, added, “That statute also provides that any substantial modification of the park’s maintenance requires not only consultation with the advisory council, but also two weeks published notice of a public hearing.”
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Lynn affirmed, “Destroying the tree and blocking the meadow was completely outside the normal maintenance of the park and did not have any approval from the council. For the DEEP to take such drastic action without any input from the council destroys the trust that  both sides have the best interests of the park at heart.”
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Neil Clauson, a grades 5-8 science teacher at Laurel Oaks Adventist School in Hamden, is among many wondering why CT DEEP destroyed a healthy tree instead of addressing potentially dangerous dead trees.

Neil Clauson, a science teacher at Laurel Oaks Adventist School in Hamden, is among park-goers wondering why CT DEEP destroyed the healthy Hickory instead of removing this potentially dangerous tree beside the Red Trail leading to WRRSP’s Hill Street parking lot.

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Lynn continued, “Considering all the work that needs to be done

Hiker walking past the second of two dead trees standing next to WRRSP Hill Street access trail.

Hiker walking past the second of two dead trees along the park’s Hill Street access trail — Hamden

in the Park with CT DEEP’s limited resources, the choice to use manpower and tax dollars to destroy beauty, to undertake actions that anger DEEP supporters and refuse to consult with the Advisory Council – with which the DEEP has had a good working relationship for 40 years – is incomprehensible.”

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Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Communications Director Dennis Schain, said, “This was a  result of discussions between park state and a Wildlife group here. We do manage tens of thousands of acres on behalf of the people of this state and always try to do that in a manner that best balances needs of public recreation and preservation of resources.  We understand feelings and emotions that have been raised by the removal of this tree and this clearly reminds us of the need to be sensitive to people’s preferences as we make land management decisions.”

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State Parks Director Tom Tyler added in a written communication: “Historically, DEEP staff has meet twice a year with  members of the Advisory Council. In the past the discussions have not included a level of detail to include this type of decision that some members of the Council are now expressing opinions regarding.”

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Upon reading Tyler’s statement, Lynn said, “I am stunned that Mr. Tyler considers the destruction of a park community’s nearly century old landmark tree, and the repurposing of that tree’s popular meadow, to be a level of detail not significant enough to bother sharing or seeking advice about.”

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Doheny added, “This plan to remove the tree and manage the meadow for wildlife was not on the agenda when we  (the advisory council) met with CT DEEP in October 2015.”

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Lynn adamantly continued, “DEEP staff knew this was a beloved park feature; they should have known destroying the tree would provoke public outrage.  Had they consulted with the Advisory Council, they would have learned this very quickly, and would have had the opportunity either to make a persuasive case for their intended action and educate the public, or realize that they should not go forward with cutting the tree.”

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"My friends and I ride through the north field at West Rock Ridge on a regular basis, imagine our dismay when we came out into the north field and saw that our old friend the giant hickory tree, was gone! We have often said this tree was the crown of this field, our landmark, and even a place of refuge. What a senseless act is was cutting down this grand old beauty!" - Bob Bergen. l-r., Dave Huntley, Bob and Fran Bergen and Jon Northway

“My friends and I ride through the north field at West Rock Ridge on a regular basis. Imagine our dismay when we came out into the north field and saw that our old friend, the giant hickory tree, was gone! We have often said this tree was the crown of this field, our landmark and even a place of refuge. What a senseless act is was cutting down this grand old beauty!” Bob Bergen l-r Dave Huntley, Bob & Fran Bergen, Jon Northway`

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Tyler had addressed the council’s upset within his written comments: “We welcome the Advisory Council’s greater involvement in the many property management issues related to the lands within the conservation area, and we will work with Council to develop plans to involve them to a greater degree in these discussions.”
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Upon reading that, Lynn said, “It is clear Director Tyler completely underestimates the significance this tree held, the depth of shock and sadness the community continues to feel and the community’s determination to see the DEEP take action that is directly relevant to what has already happened to the tree and meadow – not just a statement about working more closely in future.”
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Original oil painting of The Swing Tree by Linda Reilly, Woodbridge, CT.

DEEP staff should get out in front of the issue and start discussing with the Advisory Council what an appropriate remedy might look like.” –Ted Lynn    “The Swing Tree” Original oil painting by Linda Reilly, Woodbridge, CT.

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Said Doheny, “My personal opinion is they didn’t set out to cut the tree down for spite, but now they’ve come up with all these reasons to cut it down. They made a mistake. They aught to be willing to admit they made a mistake and ask the park community ‘what can we do to make amends?’”
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“The Advisory Council and the Park Association would be good ways for DEEP to find out what the public wants,” concluded Lynn, “perhaps a new tree in that location, and a bench where people can sit and dream.”
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In the meantime, the Advisory Council says people who want the  DEEP to act on their concerns should contact CT DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee  (860) 424-3571.
It also suggests people call or write their government representatives, including:
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Hamden Rep. Mike D’Agostino (D) (860) 240-8585, (800) 842-8267 and Michael.DAgostino@cga.ct.gov
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State Senator Joe Crisco  (D)(800)  842-1420 ,  State Rep. Themis Klarides (R) (800) 842-1423 and
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D) 800-842-1902 | 860-240-8500
Brendan.Sharkey@cga.ct.gov – 
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Except for ‘Thunderstorm Sky over Tree’ photo by Nancy Specht,
All reporting, photos and slideshow by Katherine Jurgens
aka – Felicity Green
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Albertus Magnus student Miranda Richetelle, 20, and her passel of rescue pups... "The DEEP needs to understand, this tree was an important part of people's lives."

Albertus Magnus student Miranda Richetelle, 20, and her passel of rescue pups… “The DEEP needs to understand, this tree was an important part of people’s lives.”