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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.