PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is advising the public that a project to remove about 20 dead, dying, or otherwise hazardous trees surrounding Mansion Field in Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick will get underway within the next two to three weeks. The project is being undertaken to protect public safety, as the aged trees surround an area of the park that hosts DEM's weekly farmers' market and other public events. With large limbs collapsing regularly, even in non-storm-related circumstances, DEM is taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of park visitors.
"It pains me to think about bringing down large, stately trees that were once considered to be some of the best specimens of their species in New England, but the reality is that they have lived well past their expected age span – and their structural integrity – and they are hazardous," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "We need to do this."
A gem of the Rhode Island State Parks system, Goddard Memorial State Park was gifted to the State for park purposes in 1927 by the children of Colonel Robert Hales Ives Goddard, in memory of their father. A former family estate of Colonel Goddard, the 490-acre park formally opened in 1930. According to the late RI State Parks historian Albert Klyberg, the Goddard estate had been developed as a private arboretum and had fine groves of local tree species and some of the best "specimen" trees in New England, including some 62 deciduous species and 19 varieties of evergreen. Despite storm ravages, such as those inflicted in the Hurricane of 1938, the arboreal beauty of the park survived many generations.
Time, however, has taken its toll. Arborists in DEM's Division of Forest Environment have evaluated the site and identified trees that require immediate removal, along with additional trees of high concern. Specifically, the work includes the removal of 19 dead, decaying, and diseased trees from Mansion Field and its overflow parking area.
The trees that will be removed have significant structural issues and could pose a risk to public safety if left untouched. Included are a declining maple near the porta potties and a beech in the farmers' market area with a history of breakage, sprawling limbs, and decay. One of the trees to be felled is pictured above. It is a red oak designated as a "champion tree" by the RI Tree Council that has a crown spread of 117 feet – the second-widest spread of any recorded tree in the state. DEM arborists also identified seven trees that do not require immediate removal. These trees will be pruned as needed and will continue to be monitored.
"As a tree lover who appreciates all they do to make our lives better, I understand how people can become attached to trees," Director Coit said. "We are removing these trees, however, because they are a threat to public safety. I want to assure the public and frequent visitors to Goddard Memorial State Park that DEM will work closely with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission in developing a plan to revegetate the Mansion Field area that includes the right species planted in the right locations at the right times."
DEM's Division of Forest Environment, which manages 40,000 acres of state-owned rural forestland, is overseeing the project. Tree harvesting will be performed by Rhode Island registered arborists, and DEM foresters will supervise and monitor the harvest operation.
Goddard Park is a state-owned historic property. Because of the historic landscape of the park, DEM's Division of Planning and Development has contacted the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission regarding the tree removal project and revegetation plan.
Rhode Island's natural and public assets – including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches – are magnets, attracting more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They're also an engine that adds an estimated $315 million to the economy, generating nearly $40 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 4,000 jobs a year. However, more visitors (a 37% increase in beach visitation from 2010 to 2017), far fewer employees (full-time staffing in DEM's Parks and Recreation Division has dropped by 67%, to 42 FTEs from 123, since 1989), longer seasons, and aging facilities are hindering DEM's ability to meet some park users' expectations. DEM has been leading an initiative proposed by Governor Gina M. Raimondo to celebrate, modernize, and reinvest in state parks and beaches. According to a recent study, Rhode Island's parks and beaches rank first nationally in visits per acre but 47th in state support per visit.
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