CUMBERLAND — Work to remove dozens of invasive Norway maple trees at Valley Falls Heritage Park has opened up a view of the Blackstone River and surrounding area that hasn’t been seen in decades.
“I’m just amazed,” planning and community development director Jonathan Stevens said of Coventry-based Warwick Tree Service’s efforts last week to make quick work of probably a third of the roughly 55 trees that will eventually be removed as part of a park reclamation initiative.
The overgrowth and thick tree cover had largely cut off the view of the park and the river from Mill Street, especially when the leaves are on the trees, leading to the deterioration of Valley Falls Heritage Park at the Central Falls line. Tree removal is considered a first step in maintaining a conservation and management plan that will allow residents to begin enjoying the unique features of the facility once again.
City Council last November approved a resolution allowing Mayor Jeff Mutter to sign a contract with Warwick Tree for up to $48,500 to remove the trees.
Norway maple is considered an invasive species because it is a popular non-native landscape tree that spreads into native forests. It beats sugar maples for its shade tolerance, reducing flower diversity below due to heavy shade.
Stevens noted how Warwick Tree staff used a pair of $700,000 West German machines with telescoping hands that grabbed the trunks with a gripper, then used a saw just below the gripper to cut where intended. . In one continuous motion, they then lifted the trees into the air, while leaving no residue behind.
Stevens said he thought there was some competition with a National Grid project for local police details, so not all of the work was completed last week.
A junction to be deleted is defined as a group of junctions leaving a system. While most stumps will remain, whatever remains of the trees removed in the plateau island in the center of the park, a lock-lined picnic area, will be leveled or removed.
Stevens said Friends of the Blackstone will work with the city to take a slice of the remaining trunks and have a certified professional herbicide applicator treat the surface so they don’t regrow. Through the management plan, the Friends of Blackstone and the town will keep an eye out for any new growth or trees.
The plan approved by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management calls for the planting of 24 trees of native species by the end of May, an expensive proposition but the right thing to do to restore the bird canopy along the way of migration, Stevens said.
He said the hope is that work this month will return the park to the open look it had after renovations and improvements in the 1990s. The restoration of park features, including fencing , benches, interpretive panels and the like, will come later, he said, including the removal of graffiti. Once people can see and appreciate the park for what it is, he says, it will be easier to invest more attention in it.
“It’s quite dramatic,” he said. “It will be a different perspective than we’ve had for the past 20 years.”
The improvements to Valley Falls Heritage Park are part of a larger effort to create a greater sense of community life in the Broad Street area, which is undergoing massive reconstruction. It is proposed to convert the old post office and grocery store next to City Hall into a community center.