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Little damage reported at historic Arnold Arboretum in Boston after Hurricane Sandy

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  October 30, 2012 03:34 PM

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Workers surveying and cleaning up the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston said that about five or six trees had been deemed complete losses as of about mid-afternoon Tuesday, according to the historic landscape’s director of operations, Stephen Schneider.

Other plant life was partially damaged, including downed branches. And he warned that some branches may have snapped but are still hanging or leaning above the ground. Such unsecured tree limbs, nicknamed “widow makers,” pose safety hazards.

But, overall, Schneider said the 265-acre collection of some 15,000 trees, shrubs and woody vines held up “quite well” against peak wind gusts that the arboretum’s weather station measured at about 50 miles per hour.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said, adding that none of the lost or damaged plant life accounted for so far were of particular historical significance or popular to visitors.

Last August, Tropical Storm Irene cracked a popular silver maple, the Arnold Arboretum’s tallest tree, which was planted in 1881.

The green space is the oldest public arboretum in North America. Located in the city's Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods, it was founded in 1872 through public-private partnership between Harvard University and the City of Boston.

Schneider said several of the trees felled during this week’s hurricane were already compromised in some way due to age or “preexisting conditions.”

Staff there had done some preventative maintenance and pruning, which Schneider said helped minimize the damage.

He said that the storm’s winds were not as strong as originally predicted. Instead of sustained winds of between 50 and 60 miles per hour, the arboretum was only hit with gusts near those speeds.

The vegetation also benefitted from the storm coming during the fall season. Many of the trees have lost their leaves, he said. A tree’s leaves increases its canopy creating a sail-like effect in the wind.

Schneider said the storm also did not bring particularly heavy rains. When the ground around trees and plants becomes saturated, the root system can loosen, increasing the likelihood that the vegetation will topple over or come out of the ground.

He said he expects the cleanup efforts at the arboretum to take between two and three days to finish.

He noted how the impact in Boston was much less severe than reports in other cities that Sandy hit.

“The folks in New Jersey and Manhattan – gosh – they got hit pretty hard,” Schneider said.

Relatively little damage was reported at other parks and green spaces in Boston.

Julie Crockford, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, said just after noon on Tuesday that she had not had a chance to tour Boston's Emerald Necklace park system herself. However, she said had heard from others who had surveyed some of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath.

She said some downed trees and limbs were reported. Some nearby waterways are at higher than normal levels, but she said she had heard of no reports of flooding around the park system.

"In general, knock on wood, we’re feeling things could have been worse,” Crockford said.

The Emerald Necklace is a six-park system that encompasses more than 1000 acres, or about half of Boston's parkland. The system is made up of the Arnold Arboretum, Back Bay Fens, Franklin Park, Jamaica Pond, Olmsted Park, and the Riverway.

It stretches five miles from the Charles River through part of the Back Bay, extending over the city's border with Brookline where it runs along the Fenway and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods before reaching Roslindale and Roxbury and bordering parts of Mattapan and Dorchester.

S.J. Port, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation, said in an e-mail that the agency's properties in Boston "did luck out."

"We lost a few trees, but this was not as severe as last year's Halloween snow storm for Boston and surrounding areas."

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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