Amherst officials eye removal of aging Norway maple trees 

  • The Merry Maple celebration in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • People gather under the large maple tree on the North Common Friday night after it was illuminated by thousands of lights for the 40th annual Merry Maple celebration in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • A maple tree illuminates Amherst’s town center Dec. 2, 2016 during the Merry Maple Festival and Tree Lighting. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, August 01, 2022

AMHERST — Amherst’s famed Merry Maple tree, and two other aging Norway maple trees on the North Common in front of Town Hall, will be the subject of a hearing next month focused on their possible removal.

Tree Warden Alan Snow scheduled the hearing for Aug. 9 at 5 p.m., with the Public Shade Tree Committee meeting in a virtual format.

An in-person site visit, with residents invited to listen to Snow’s observations about the trees, takes place a week earlier, Aug. 2 at 5:30 p.m.

The possibility that the three trees, including one of the most iconic trees in town, would be cut down comes as the North Common is scheduled for an overhaul next year.

The long-planned rehabilitation of the North Common, now at a cost of $1.8 million, is supposed to begin in 2023 and be complete the following year. The project includes removing the Main Street parking lot and replacing it with a plaza and landscaping, and improving the greenspace that has been prone to washouts.

The Merry Maple, the largest of the Norway maple trees, has been the centerpiece of an annual event that kicks off the holiday season since the 1970s. In recent years the tree returned to its place of prominence when the Amherst Business Improvement District invested in its relighting.

Shade Tree Committee members said they weren’t sure how much time to set aside for public input at the hearing, but Snow said there will be numerous avenues for comment, and whatever decision he or the committee makes will not be the last word.

“I would say it’s likely that somebody is going to oppose the removal of the tree,” Snow said.

In that case, the decision will go to Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

Norway maples are well established as an invasive species throughout the Northeast, and they are banned for sale in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They are fast-growing, outcompeting other trees, and have a shallow, dense root system that discourages other plant growth.

The Merry Maple has been in decline for several years, with Snow noting that its urban setting has meant years of soil compaction and soil erosion, tip dieback in the upper crown and the snapping of a major leader. There are also cracks in which water is seeping into the tree, and there is risk of fungus rot, as well.