Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Tree Saved in Sturbridge

Recently we saw what residents of Sturbridge can do to improve our town if they are so inclined. Seems that there has been some discussion about trees here in town, specifically on McGilpin Road. Now, for those of you who don't know, McGilpin Road is a old unpaved country lane. Lots of forest, some meadows, and more recently, some nice new homes. It is a great place to have a home, quiet, and off the beaten path. The town would like to pave the road, and widen it in spots for safety reasons. They also wanted to take down a number of trees along is sides to make the road safer. Most of these trees are old, one in particular, a Red Oak, is very old, and a beautiful tree. That tree was also slated to be removed.

Then came Kirstie Pecci, a resident of McGilpin Road. She fought for the tree, had arborists check out just how much living wood was still within the tree, and then confronted the Board of Selectmen and the Tree Warden in order to save it. This old oak is referred to a "Heritage Tree" because of its age, and to date there had been no plan in town to protect these trees other than ones that were in plain sight, such as around the Common. The sparing of the oak on McGilpin Road would establish a precedent the Tree Warden stated. He was not against establishing a precedent, but wanted the BOS, and the Town to know that it would cost money now, and in the future to save and maintain the trees.

Well, the Board listened, and the Tree Warden offered to apply for a grant to offset the cost of tree maintenance. It was suggested a Tree Committee be formed to aid the Tree Warden, and one was formed. In the end, the Old Red Oak was saved. The Town will still go ahead with its paving of this old lane, but the overall widening of the road will be considerably cut back.

Now, there is a lesson here. When folks feel the need to speak out on an issue that is close to them, they become impassioned. A simple issue as saving a tree caused a woman to speak up, and present information contrary to the status quo. And, she did it without yelling, or slapping her opponents. She did it with passion, and grace, and the Board of Selectmen, and the Tree Warden responded in kind.

So, keep this in mind, you reap what you sow, even in a Board of Selectmens meeting.


  1. Great story, well written. The issue here however, as I see it anyway, is that Mrs. Pecci is the sister of selectman Ted Goodwin. Were this issue brought forward by someone not politically aligned with the B.O.S., I am convinced the outcome would have been different.

  2. There was a time when me and cynicism wore the same shoes. Don't know what happened, but somehow I outgrew it. Funny how things happen. But, if I was still that person, I may agree with you. However, I would like to think, no, make that, I want to think that who she was had little effect on the Board. That would be too obvious. The Board knows this, and the Town would know it. No, I beleive it went well because of the manner in wich it was presented, and that the BOS acted as they should. In fact, they set a precedent in more ways than with the saving of a tree. This episode will be recalled in the future when other things are brought before the board.

    Anyway, when other issues are brought up, and not handled as well as this one was, it will be questioned. Afterall, the precedent has been set here, and we will be watching.

  3. I so do respect your approach to this but wonder if perhaps you missed the controversies surrounding the Zoning Study Sub-committee and the Housing Partnership Committee.

    Both were similar in concept but were handled completely differently (for the world to see), because one involved an individual politically alignd with the B.O.S. and one did not.

    I sincerely respect and admire your approach to issues and commend you for your objectivity, but I must say that I believe a more detailed study of issues brought before the B.O.S. and the positions they take on each and every one might suggest that it is not so much what the issue is that is brought before them, or how it is brought before them, but rather who is bringing it before them.

    Research the Accessory Dwelling Unit Bylaw proposal, the Planning Board's position on quorum memberships on committees, the Housing Partnership Committee controversery, the controversy surrounding appointments to the Economic Developomnt Committee, the B.O.S. position on televising of Conservation Commission meetings, the Wastewater Treatment expansion, etc and juxtapose that with the postions of a small but vocal group in Town and one might come to a determination that this is a government of the few.

    This concerns this veteran greatly for it demonstrates a government of the few, which is completely contrary to the desires of our founding fathers.

    T. Creamer

    P.S. Keep up the great work! It's nice having another perspective on things.

  4. I would say it's easy to be convinced of something when one really wants to believe it, or, when it feeds into one's own brand of politics. However, when the tree warden himself can be non-political, and really see that this is an old tree worth saving - even writes a grant for it - then your statement that certain board/committee members being relatives is a moot point. The selectmen have taken the advice of this professional, established a worthwhile committee for Sturbridge which the warden will oversee, and hopefully, from here forward, more consideration and money will be spent on keeping old trees in the landscape.

  5. Citizen activists are a huge part of who a community is; at times, they alone are totally responsible for instituting change, good and bad. "Each and every one of us has a God given right to exercise our opinions freely and peacefully".
    I believe what "Thoughtful" said speaks exactly to that, and Margaret Mead said it best: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has".

    The precedent-setting tree decision will have a positive impact in this town for years to come. The decision is no longer about one group, one town, or one situation. It could actually set a great example for other towns to follow.

    It applies to any resident of any town, regardless of who they are, who they're related to, where they live, what they stand for or do not stand for.

    Thank you "Thoughtful" for providing a forum for citizens to freely express their opinions without fear of retribution or other embarrassment.

  6. It's interesting that the B.O.S. only agreed with the Tree Warden's professional determination once said determination was changed to suit their liking.

  7. Interesting that the tree warden doesn't see it that way, nor does the video of the meeting portray it that way. The tree warden listened to residents concerns, and opinions from other arborists, and worked with the residents on the issue. I commend everyone for acting appropriately and professionally, especially the tree warden, the end result being a win/win for the entire town - not just one person or one neighborhood.

  8. Well, this is fun! See what has happened here? There has been a conversation. An agree-to-disagree kind of moment. We all agree that the tree sparing was a good thing. We may disagree about just how it happened, or if there was some far removed nepotism of sorts, but we spoke our minds with fear of retribution. This is what this forum is for. The next step is to share. Change can only occur when others are aware of the need to change. They may not agree, but their opinion is as important as ours. Listen, compromise, a common action, and follow through are the things that ignite change.

    You both are to be commended for your ability to speak up. Now, spread the word to others about this space. The more voices that are aware, the better we will all be.

    One more thing, I enjoyed reading Tom's comments about other departments in the town. Good fodder for a posting. Stay tuned.

  9. CORRECTION: The comment above should read: "...but we spoke our minds without fear of retribution..."

    Sorry, lost my copy of "Blogging for Dummies".

  10. First, to "Just thinking," thank you for providing this avenue of expression.

    I apologize in advance if my words and thoughts ramble as they are based on several accounts, postings, comments, etc.

    I am a resident of McGilpin Road and curious as to how "non-vocal" residents feel about "the tree." Had I known this would have turned into such a major ordeal, I would have gone to the December 3rd meeting. So shame on me for not being involved; however, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a tree leading to the formation of a new committee and becoming such a lightning rod.

    Call me a cynic, but I cannot reasonably believe that the decision to save the tree was not somehow politically influenced. If it wasn't, then this has to be a prime example of a small town mindset gone awry amongst those people in charge.

    I can't help but think of the city of Worcester. I think it was this past summer where a resident did not want a bank cutting down a tree in the Greenwood Street section of that city. An article in the T&G talked about children playing in the tree, being a barrier between a person's home and a parking lot. Within days of the article appearing in the paper, the tree was cut down.

    Yet at the same time, take a ride on the city's West side and you'll see all sorts of traffic-restriction signs in the form of turns not being allowed onto some residential/cut-through streets during peak commuting times. Now try to find such a sign in a less affluent, less politically-influential part of Worcester. My point - sometimes government looks out for the wishes of a few people while at other times government turns a blind eye.

    So back to my original point, either the decision to save a tree on a road with a plethora of trees was either politically motivated or, at the other end of the spectrum and in my opinion, a complete waste of taxpayers' money to fulfill the label that Sturbridge is this small, historical town. Sure the tree will be paid with a grant; but, unless that money came from some magical money tree, then taxpayers are still paying for the upkeep of the tree no matter if you call it a line item or a grant.

    It would be here that I could write some fear mongering about tree huggers taking over the town's budget, but I don't have a crystal ball. Maybe this will be the only tree that money is spent on, but maybe this could possibly be the first of many. And with the town, state, and nation experiencing difficult economic times, money spent on trees instead of the community of a whole makes me think that we have a local "Fleecing of America" segment in our normally-quiet town.

    I also hope that my comments don't make me sound as someone who wants to turn Sturbridge into the South Bronx, as that is furthest from my intentions. I just wish that anyone who takes an interest in this whole incident would drive down McGilpin Road and try to pick out "the tree" from the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of other trees on the road.

    And to the resident of the road who essentially said a tree never lunged at him, I actually saw the aftermath of a healthy looking tree that crashed down upon an occupied motor vehicle. It was during a non-windy, sunny day and no one pre-cut the tree. So trees do fall down on their own and can seriously hurt both people and property alike. And now the town is going to be fiscally responsible for old trees that fall down.

    I'm curious as to how other residents of this road, or the town overall for that matter, feel about this tree. I know of 4 households on this road that are in a state of disbelief that this could be happening. Thanks to the internet, maybe those less apt to speak out publically about this issue can do so.

    And, finally, I'm no expert in town by-laws and I'm sure that it would never happen, but wouldn't it be great if each registered voter of this road could go to Burgess for a special election and make it known as to how they truly feel about this subject!

    Thank you.

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for taking the time to write. I do hear what you are saying. I really do. The bottom line to this whole tree event is that the Town of Sturbridge Board of Selectmen have established a precedent. A precedent that can not be overlooked in the future, and for the average "Joe" in town, this is a good thing. Regardless of who is related to who, or if the tree is truly a tree worth saving, a motion was brought before the board by a resident who did her homework. The Tree Warden could not disagree with the findings, therefore the Board had no choice but to act favorably since funding (grant), and oversight (new tree committee) were insured.

    I know the situation you wrote off in Worcester at the Webster Bank on Greenwood Street. That tree was an amazing old tree. My fiance lived on Greenwood
    Street for a long time and I remember smiling as I drove by it. How did such a grand old tree survive till today in the city? Luck. The bank insisted it had to come down or they could not build as designed. The City gave up the fight. They should have insisted on incorporating the tree into the plan. Plain and simple. They didn't and the Webster Bank sawed the tree down.

    Yes, in some way any decision that is made here in town will have its "political" influences, and we know that some areas of town are handled differently than others for whatever reason.

    Yes, the "tree huggers" are happy, in fact, I hug a tree now and again, and the resident that brought up the issue is happy, but more importantly, we should all be happy with this particular event. It will make it that much easier for us to present issues to the Town, and expect a positive result. The formula is there. Do our homework, ally ourselves with a Town official that has credibility, offer oversight, and, finally, a method of payment that is acceptable to all.

    Thank you again for writing, your words mean a great deal, and I am sure they will read, and thought of by many others.

  12. What I am very impressed about here is: people - regardless of where they live - didn't have to complain about losing the tree AFTER the fact. In my volunteer capacity, I hear complaints pretty often from people who wish they had spoken up before old growth, or special trees, were cut down. It's sickening but this version of the story is heartening and speaks to - again - citizen activism. As I always say "once it's gone, it's gone and you can't get it back". This is the case with trees (well, sure you can plant a new one and in 150 years, you'll have a replica I guess, but will you be here then?), land and water.


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