Lauren R. Stevens: Giving the Spruces new life as a park


WILLIAMSTOWN >> It's not like planting in your backyard, where each viburnum and dogwood will receive your loving, almost daily attention. The plants along the swale at The Spruces, in Williamstown, will be more on their own, sorting out which will flourish and which may not. For that reason volunteers planted excess, 840 trees and shrubs along a 500-foot strip.

Their purpose is to beautify the area, provide wildlife habitat, prevent erosion, filter pollution, and shade and cool the flow of water, which empties into the Hoosic River. Many of the plants have flowers and berries, which will attract birds. Planting native species is a way of combating climate change.

On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene flooded The Spruces Mobile Home Park, displacing some 200 residents and rendering their homes unusable. Arranged by then Town Manager Peter Fohlin, Federal Emergency Management Act funds helped residents find other places to live and the town to clean up the mess. No further development on the flood plain is allowed, so the town is turning the land into a park.

Somewhat related, the state Department of Transportation, to relieve flooding on the other side of Route 2, recently installed additional drainage pipes under the road and into The Spruces. DOT did not increase the size of the pipe that passes through a berm into the Hoosic, though. Instead it removed the rest of the pipe under The Spruces and removed earth to create a detention basin, a place to hold excess water without flooding. The new plantings line both sides of that swale.

In preparation for the planting, the town mowed the area and provided 30 yards of compost and 30 yards of shredded wood mulch. North Branch Nursery used an auger to dig the holes for planting and donated labor and supervision to the project, assisted by 24 first-year students from Williams College and volunteers from HooRWA and the community. The town's Community Preservation Act funded the project. Most of the work was done September 1, with the rest following.

Because these plants will not be closely attended to, more were planted and planted closer together than in home landscaping. They were watered twice within their first week, followed by some welcome rain.

Furthermore, the 15 different native species were planted in blue, plastic tubes designed to protect against voles, mice, rabbits and deer. The shelters increase the survival rate and function as miniature greenhouses, speeding growth, according the Iowa State University Extension Service, so that the plants reach a size safer from critter predation sooner than might be expected. HooRWA plans to remove the tubes in a year or so.

Since FEMA in early August approved of the town's job in removing structures from The Spruces, the "No Trespassing" sign has been removed. Although the Spruces Land Use Committee continues to plan the future elements of the park, the land is open to the public — and, with the planting, already on its way to becoming if not your personal backyard, the town's backyard.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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