The Wonderful New Street Trees

November 28, 2021

Last spring construction finally started for Phase 1 of what is supposed to be a lovely new Main Street sidewalk project here in Yarmouth. Probably about three years in the making, numerous meetings with residents, businesses, State transportation people, and several types of planners had come up with what was considered to be the best for pedestrians, handicapped access, traffic, as well as aesthetics. Obviously costs had to be taken into consideration as well. Main street is a fairly busy thoroughfare, not just a little village street like it was 30-40 years ago, despite what some people wish to think. Main street is also Route 115, a state road.

Many of the retailers, once located on Main St., have now moved to busier and larger locations on Route 1 that are easier accessed and have much more exposure. Destination type businesses that don’t rely as much on traffic flow, such as professional practices, are scattered amongst a few specialty eateries, like Espresso and Gelato places, a couple of high-end restaurants, and some of the nice old homes are now the image residents attempt to maintain for the “Village Affect.” One of the larger businesses that is still on Main St. is Hancock Lumber, a major lumber and building supplier. Although the Hancock site was once owned by another company, I assume it was built at this location because of railroad access in the center of town back in the day. Two or three banks still have offices as well.

So let’s create a “quaint little village with tree lined streets,” people said while talking about the needed renovation of Main St. All kinds of people came up with wonderful ideas to preserve the beautiful old architecture and tie in an updated and improved pedestrian friendly foot traffic plan to meet updated handicapped specs. The committee that was formed included an engineering firm, two landscape architects (LA’s), the Town Manager, a representative from the Town Planning Board, the person in charge of roads and open space, the Tree Warden (who resigned part way through the project), and probably a couple of other people. Four churches as well as a 200-year-old private day school all line the main drag. People wanted to not just have motor traffic on Main street, but also more foot traffic. In my opinion, retail would be needed to draw the people to the village, but the reality for merchants was very limited. Things change and I just hope these new boutiquey, artsy, and vegan pizza joints have enough draw from the “NEWBIES” to make a go of it. When my family moved here in the mid ’70s my guess is the population was about 6,000, today there are about 8,500 residents. The per capita income has also grown dramatically.

Although there was a pretty hefty budget for this Main Street Project, which basically boiled down to new sidewalks, the State happened to be doing some paving work, and funds unfortunately didn’t allow for brick walkways. New granite curbing was replacing the existing 40-year-old curbs. Curbing now not only marks the edges of streets, but is also used to create raised planters around the few trees that were attempted to be saved and new trees being planted. Apparently people didn’t like the idea of planting trees at sidewalk grade and surrounding them with iron grates, as they had been before and is a very common practice in many municipalities.

When I first saw the raised planters around the two existing trees that were able to be saved, I was concerned about how they were going to be mulched without having bark too high on the trunks. So now we have two funny looking raised planters with trees planted at street grade, about 18-24″ below the top of these fancy new raised circular granite planters. If mulch fills these planters, two feet of excess mulch will eventually kill the trees; fortunately that has not yet happened!

As the project progressed more trees were planted in similar new raised granite planters. The LA had specified a special type of amended loam type mix to be used in these planters containing plenty of organic matter and was recommended for street tree use. On the day of the planting, the concrete contractor was just dumping loam in the holes around the trees. No soil amendments, and certainly none of this “special” street tree planting mix suggested by Cornell University. Some of trees had been delivered about a week before planting and sat at grade ready to be planted. Just out of curiosity, I watched to see how often they would be watered. As days passed, no water, temps were well into the ’80s, finally after about five days the Town Highway Dept. came by and watered them. Not the concrete company that was planting them! Needless to say, my feathers were a bit ruffled! Finally the trees were planted and mulched and sure enough, after planting the new trees were very nicely mulched……. with mulch that was about 4 inches too deep!

During this entire project, the only Town official I’d seen doing any kind of overseeing of the work was the Town Engineer and his primary concern was if the granite curbs and concrete walkways were being installed at proper grade. A nursery/landscape company had only delivered the trees, but the concrete company that had poured the walks and installed the nice granite planters was doing the tree installation. Water bags were installed on all trees to hopefully get the trees through the record hot summer. I suppose the Highway Dept. had gotten stuck with the job of watering the trees since they have a tank truck, although they didn’t plant them.

Moving on a couple of months, I was curious to check on the status of the trees. In late August I saw one of the elms was totally brown and a stressed hawthorn had a piece of flagging meaning it needed to be replacement. Sure enough, as I write this in early September the trees have been replaced and some of the deep mulch has been pulled away from a few trees, but not all. Time will tell how these trees look next spring or a couple years down the road. My fingers are crossed!

— by Phil Caldwell
Phil Caldwell is a past president of NHLA (1989) who now lives and works in Maine.