The Muddy River Tree Preservation Project

Working on this project, we have the ability to do almost anything to help preserve the trees. Photo courtesy of the author.

Every once in a while, you get to work on an extra-cool project. I was very excited when Dan Mayer asked me to work on a project on the Muddy River in and around Boston, Massachusetts. Being a big fan of Frederick Law Olmsted (often called the father of American landscape architecture), I was really intrigued.

The Muddy River is part of the Emerald Necklace, designed by Olmsted in the late 1800s. It is a 1,100-acre chain of parks linked by parkways and waterways that wraps around Boston. When Olmsted originally designed this part of the park system, it was to help improve the flow of the river, which in turn would alleviate stagnant water and reduce flooding.

Fast forward about 100 years, and the surrounding areas were flooding again. Most of the flooding had more to do with the growth of the city than the river itself. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in collaboration with the town of Brookline and the City of Boston, came up with a plan to dredge the river and redesign a lot of the infrastructure. Charter Construction was hired to do the work, and Mayer Tree Service, a 28-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Mass., was engaged to help minimize the impact of this huge construction project on the trees.

The project has been a great collaborative effort between the contractors, the engineers and the tree warden of Boston, Max Diamond, and of Brookline, Tom Brady (no, not that Tom Brady). Trying to keep the project moving forward and minimizing the impact on the trees while working to keep everyone happy can be a challenge. However, this is a great group of professionals who have been a pleasure to work with.

Working on this project, we have the ability to do almost anything to help preserve the trees: fencing, mulching, using wooden mats to minimize compaction, high-pressure air excavation, root pruning, etc. What separates this project from most “tree-preservation” jobs is that there was a great plan in place well before the design was done. The most important thing needed to preserve trees during construction is prior planning. If the tree’s root system is not considered before the design, the tree usually does not survive the five- to 10-year post-construction timeframe.

I have been kicked off a lot of construction sites for saying, “Remove the tree now before you start construction, because it’s not going to survive.” At that stage of the game, it’s too late to change the design. It would cost too much time and money, so the architect, builder and homeowner want you to tell them, “If we just fertilize it, the tree will be fine.”

I can’t do that. It’s unfortunate, because we all have seen these trees die after the builders are long gone. Those are my least-favorite consults, when a homeowner calls me to help with their tree that “all of a sudden does not look good,” followed by, “I bought this lot for the trees.” It’s a helpless feeling. Thankfully, for this project, there was a great and, more important, realistic plan in place way ahead of time.

My favorite part of the project has been coming up with an unusual solution to alleviate soil compaction in one of the areas ready for new planting. Due to its proximity to the river, high-pressure air excavation in this location was not an option (they had just spent millions getting the mud out of the river). Using machinery, or even hand tools, was not appropriate, because we did not want to damage the existing roots we had worked so hard to protect.

After collaborating with Brady, we decided to use a small auger to drill hundreds of holes, spacing them every 6 to 12 inches. This allows for better drainage and increased air flow for the roots, makes almost no mess and allows us to minimize root damage. It’s something I have done before on small construction projects where space is limited to reduce blowing soil all over the neighbors. It is not the ideal solution, but, in this case, it was the right solution.

This project is about two-thirds completed. When it’s finished, the Muddy River and surrounding areas will be better prepared to abate flooding and will have a fresh, new look in this historic landscape.

David M. Anderson, Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and a Massachusetts certified arborist, is a manager with Mayer Tree Service, Inc., a 28-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Massachusetts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to listen highlighted text!