How Green Was My Post Road

Spring is here (in fits and starts). Lawns turn green. Flowers bloom. Trees come alive again, turning Westport into a lush, lovely town at every turn.

Trees define this place. They give permanence to our property. They link us to our past. And they line our roadsides.

Sometimes.

From 1972-76, a major program remade the look of Westport. Thanks to the Westport Woman’s Club — with direction from Eloise Ray and Elaine Rusk — over 300 trees were planted on the Post Road. From the Southport line to Norwalk, those new trees turned our main artery — lined with gas stations, stores, office buildings and parking lots — into something special.

The Post Road near Maple Avenue, in 1976. The KFC was located opposite the Shell gas station (still there) and what is now Athletic Shoe Factory. (Photo/Dan Cronin)

The Post Road near Maple Avenue, in 1976. The KFC was located opposite the Shell gas station (still there) and what is now Athletic Shoe Factory. (Photo/Dan Cronin)

For good reason, the project was called “The Greening of the Post Road.” The town’s Beautification Committee took over annual maintenance of the trees. That work “will probably continue in some form as long as there is a Westport,” a report proclaimed a few years later.

Of course, it’s tough to care for trees that don’t exist.

In the 4 decades since the Post Road was greened, more than 2/3 of those trees have disappeared.

Some died of disease or drought. Others fell to the effects of road salt or car accidents. Some were sacrificed to the needs of utility companies. Others were removed by property owners — during renovations, because they blocked views of stores, or hung over sidewalks, or were too hard to care for. Or for no real reason at all.

As this photo shows, most of the trees near the former Subway restaurant and Sherwood Diner are gone.

As this photo shows, most of the trees near the former Subway restaurant and Sherwood Diner are gone.

A “re-greening project” in 2008 added 100 new trees to the Post Road. Still, only 80 or so trees from both programs survive.

Silver maples have been removed from the Barnes & Noble plaza. A giant sycamore is gone from the old Cedar Brook Cafe. Construction at the new Maserati dealer and Subway are 2 more recent examples where trees no longer stand.

Now, a newly reconstituted Tree Board is ready to re-re-green the heart of Westport.

The 7-member committee — appointed by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and chaired by Tricia Rubenstein — includes horticulturalists, a dendrologist and a landscape architect. Dick Stein also serves on the state Notable Trees Project. Al Gratrix is a Planning and Zoning Commission alternate.

Recently, the Tree Board met with Beautification Committee chair Kathy Davis-Groener. Together — and with the help of the P&Z Department — they will Make The Post Road Green Again.

In areas like this -- with Sasco Creek Village is on the right, and Lansdowne Condos (not shown) on the left, the Greening of the Post Road project still bears fruit. (Photo/Google Street View)

In areas like this — with Sasco Creek Village on the right, and Lansdowne Condos (not shown) on the left, the Greening of the Post Road project still bears fruit. (Photo/Google Street View)

Fortunately, the US 1 project is not starting from Square 1.

Voluminous files — and dozens of photographs — document the work of the many committed volunteers in the 1970s.

They’ve got the law on their side too. P&Z regulations set landscape standards. For example, they require shade trees every 50 feet in front of any commercial business. In addition, “all landscaping plans shall conform with the ‘Greening of the Post Road Tree Program,” among other requirements.

The  Tree Board will determine the right species, and the right places to plant them. Not every tree can survive near constant traffic.

Sycamores seem to be the hardiest — they’re thriving near Carvel and Stop & Shop. Norway maples appear to have the toughest time.

Most of the trees planted in the 1970s by 606 Post Road East have been removed. (Photo/Google Street View)

Most of the trees planted in the 1970s by 606 Post Road East have been removed. (Photo/Google Street View)

But that’s not the only challenge. Roadway shoulders are state right-of-way. But — even though P&Z regulations require trees — state authorities need permission from property owners to plant there. “It’s a gray area,” the tree board says.

The state Department of Transportation does not say so exactly, but the fewer trees they have to worry about, the happier they are. (US1 is a state road.)

The DOT employs an arborist. But his office is in New Haven; his territory runs from Greenwich to Guilford, and all the way north to Redding. That’s a lot of trees for one guy to cover.

Some trees remain near the Fresh Market shopping center. Others have been planted in the parking lot, as per town regulations. But many others are gone from the roadside.

Some trees remain near the Fresh Market shopping center. Others have been planted in the parking lot, as per town regulations. But many others are gone from the roadside. (Photo/Google Street View)

The new greening project will not involve fundraising. It’s the obligation of property owners — including those proposing new construction, or renovations — to replace the trees they remove.

And, the Tree Board notes, to replace those that a previous property owner might have cut down, too.

Back in the Ford administration, the Greening of the Post Road changed the look — and feel — of Westport’s Post Road. The moment anyone crossed the border into Norwalk, the difference was clear.

The Post Road/Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection is one of the worst in Fairfield County. But at least there's greenery on the way to Norwalk.

The Post Road/Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection is one of the worst in Fairfield County. But at least there’s greenery on the way to Norwalk.

The effects of the project were expected to live for generations. Barely 4 decades later, a new program is sorely needed.

But this Tree Board is optimistic. They know their cause is a good one — environmentally as well as aesthetically — and the time is right.

They also know they can’t do it alone. If you’re interested in helping — or want more information — click here. Or email westporttreeboard@gmail.com, or treewarden@westportct.gov.

 

8 responses to “How Green Was My Post Road

  1. Kristeen Mills Sabados

    The first picture is actually now Sun Reflexology, where KFC use to be. Formerly it was the Boat Locker for a number of years. ASF is located right next door to the shell. Brings back lots of memories.

  2. Really great news!
    Would be good to publish and
    publicly call out any business that interferes with this program.

  3. Michael Calise

    This is a worthwhile project!. All properties I own have roadside trees. All roadside trees are under constant threat of irresponsible landscapers who bury them in mulch or do severe damage to the bark while trimming with weed whackers. Additionally the excessive use of road salt damages sidewalks and kills trees. Most commercial property owners overlook the fact that properly planted and maintained trees are enhancements which improve business for themselves and their tenants.

    • Great points, Mike. I did not realize (though I should have) that there are commercial property owners (unlike you) who don’t really supervise, oversee or perhaps even care about the landscapers they hire.

  4. don l bergmann

    This forever and, hence, ongoing effort, requires the support of all stakeholders, i.e. all of us. Support the efforts of the P&Z Commission, the ZBA and the First Selectman. Make sure the CT DOT addresses more than only traffic flows, support our Tree Board and our fine Tree Warden and make sure the Bd. of Fin. and the RTM provide funding, if that is what it takes on occasion to “Green the Post Rd.”
    Don Bergmann

  5. Cathy Walsh P&Z Commission

    Last year the Tree Board sounded the alarm. As Chair of the Landscape Subcommittee of the P&Z, I was invited to attend their meeting…and did I ever receive an education! As a result of this meeting, the subcommittee began the process of rewriting our Landscape regs. We’ve added text which will support the goals and objectives of the original Greening of the Post Road Project . We’ve expanded the regs to include proper planting techniques (no mounding) to protect what we have, and have updated the planting list.

    Many thanks to the entire Tree Board especially Bruce Lindsey, Dick Stein and mostly Al Gratrix. Al has been on the P&Z as a full member for 4 years and is our past/ current alternate and is now a newly appointed Tree Board member. Al grabbed the draft reg. revisions, and reviewed them with the entire Tree Board. He pushed to have the tree specs updated. On this Thursday at 4 pm, we will be having the final sub committee meeting before the new reg is presented to the full P&Z. I anticipate a public hearing sometime in May.

  6. Susan Schaefer

    I also like having this Tree Board in Westport and will support their work. BTW, Norway Maples are an invasive species.

  7. The idea and planning sound absolutely great and I wish those to work on this great times and fortune. What a gift to the Town. I would imagine that there would be Westporters who might want to contribute to this. And how about a tree in memory of someone? The 1st Tree Board, of which I was a member, raised funds for trees at Winslow Park in honor of/memory of loved ones and it is lovely to see them thriving from one season to the next.