When Towering Giants Topple

The trees in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve will soon be ablaze with autumn color. Isn’t it nice to know these trails are safe places to hike and gaze upon Mother Nature’s magnificent display?

That sense of safety is well earned. As with every season in this 1,440-acre protected greenspace, the tens of thousands of school children, families and nature lovers who enjoy traipsing through this 12-mile trail system each year probably do not think about hazards, such as damaged trees.

“Trees add tremendous value to our natural ecosystems,” states Lee Irminger, Elachee’s Natural Resources Manager. “We must also exercise caution to help provide safety to people and our facilities.” Certified arborist from Global Tree Preservation trims limbs before safely taking down a 7,000 lb. hickory tree in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

Under Lee’s guidance, Elachee collaborates with Odis Sisk of Global Tree Preservation to provide tree care and conservation services around the Nature Center and in Chicopee Woods. This is an ongoing and continuous effort that includes monitoring tree health along the trails. Frequently, this requires the expert removal of hazardous trees and limbs, a process that keeps the Nature Preserve trails open, while minimizing damage to the surrounding environment.

“In a land area as large as the Chicopee Woods, it’s important that we make a continuous effort to reduce the number of hazardous trees around the Nature Center and elsewhere in the Nature Preserve for everyone’s safety,” Lee comments. Although Lee and the weekly volunteer Trail Crew keep a sharp eye out for any potential dangers, often hikers are the ones who first encounter hazard trees and report their locations.

Hazardous trees are damaged, dead or otherwise structurally unsound trees that pose a threat to human safety, to Elachee’s hiking trails and/or the facility. A hazard tree may be one that has died near a highly-trafficked area. Or, a tree damaged in a windstorm may be leaning over a hiking trail, precariously perched against another tree.

Typically, Odis comes out quarterly to assess trees identified as hazardous or those in distress, although weather, urgency of the hazard and the season may necessitate more frequent work days. He also provides expert advice on tree health and other conservation measures, such as treatment of trees afflicted with fungus or beetles.

Trail maintenance is ongoing in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve for the safety of the many thousands of visitors who enjoy this 12-mile hiking trail system each year.“There are many tree species in the Nature Preserve, including several that are uncommon,” Lee adds, “Protecting these is an important task. Treating key trees in the Nature Preserve for fungus and other issues is a way that we can preserve them today for visitors to appreciate them well into the future.”

Recently, the Global Preservation Team was deployed to the Chicopee Woods to address a towering hickory tree that had fallen into another tree. This tree was suspended directly over the Geiger Trail, Elachee’s paved ADA-accessible trail that is used by scores of visitors visiting the Nature Center.

Odis and his team assessed the tree and estimated that after removing all its limbs from the main trunk, the trunk would still weigh 7,000 pounds! They trimmed off the limbs then utilized advanced rigging techniques and a winch to carefully lower the massive tree trunk to the ground. This meticulous process successfully avoided damaging the Geiger Trail and surrounding trees.

What then happens to tree remains?

Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem interconnected with the soil, water, other plants and animals, while also benefiting air quality. When trees come down, whether naturally or when cut, we let nature do what nature does. This means that tree remains are left to rot naturally and decompose into the soil. In fact, the way Lee and his team handle tree remains is a stipulation in the conservation easement protecting the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

“Fallen trees provide our visitors many years of opportunities for exploration, play and learning,” explains Andrea Timpone, Elachee President and CEO. Fallen trees are a source of wonder, a place for creative discovery and play.

However, in some cases, we leave a portion of the tree trunk intact to provide habitat for wildlife. Or depending upon the location, occasionally downed trees stay on the hiking trails to deter cyclists who illegally ride on these pedestrian-only pathways.

Elachee Nature Science Center is the conservator in perpetuity for the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve. It is privilege for our team to work together with professional arborists to protect and maintain the towering giants in these woodlands by striking a balance between wilderness and the safety of visitors who enjoy the forest each year. This partnership ensures the health and longevity of our trees against various threats.