CONWAY — Arborists last week took a little off the top of the giant maple at a town landing off East Conway Road, trimming dead branches and enriching the soil around its roots.
The tree, which has a 57-inch diameter and is estimated to be 150 years old, stands at the Smith-Eastman Landing, which has a popular kayak put-in and a walking path.
Up until recently, it was shading the parking lot at the landing in relative obscurity. But in early June it got put on the Conway selectmen's radar after a local contractor expressed interest in the maple, saying that with the trunk's interesting spiral twist, it would make nice furniture. He also pointed out it had many dead limbs and as such posed a safety hazard.
Selectmen discussed whether to let the contractor have it or put it out to bid to be taken down.
But when the public weighed in, sentiment shifted to save the tree.
Town Manager Tom Holmes wanted to solicit comments from local citizens, and after a story ran in the paper, the Sun received 80 responses to its phone/email/Facebook "Tele-Talk" survey. The verdict was nearly unanimous that the tree be saved. Holmes said he got several impassioned phone calls about the tree's value to the town.
So, at their July 7 meeting, the board selected P.C. Hoag & Co. Inc. of Tamworth to prune the dead branches, add fertilizer and do root work. Selectmen authorized up to $2,500 to be spent.
"In relationship to the tree, I've had so much positive feedback on our decision," Selectman John Colbath said at the board's July 21 meeting. "I went out to look at it the other day ... people stopped me right there to discuss the tree."
Town Manager Tom Holmes said several people also had contacted the town to say they were pleased the tree was saved.
On July 22, Pete Hoag and several staffers got to work with power tools and a giant lift. They pruned the dead wood from the crown of the tree, aerated the root system and added some soil conditioners, mulched the area and added a tree growth regulator (a chemical).
"This is basically to improve the health of the tree and establish a better root system," said Hoag.
The "critical root zone" of the tree basically extends underground as far as the branches do above the ground, he said. That's an area of approximately 30 by 50 feet. Now, the town will take away some parking near the tree as to protect those roots.
Hoag said over the past couple of decades, fill had been put over the roots with no organic material going back in the soil and there was also compaction from people parking under it.
"The tree doesn't like that kind of environment," said Hoag. "What we are trying to do is change that root environment, and once we do that, the crown will start to come back to life."