Press-Republican

September 23, 2012

Invasive trees threatening historic site

Non-native trees damaging Salmon River shoreline

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — An invasive tree is compromising shoreline stability and jeopardizing concrete foundations near the Salmon River.

But it will be several weeks before Village Department of Public Works crews can get to the troubled spots and kill off the problem with eco-friendly chemicals.

Dr. Dean Chapman told the Village Board that attention is needed before the ashleaf maple, or box elder tree becomes out of control.

He said the ashleaf maple is taking over land that once held native trees.

“It tears off bricks, and walls collapse,” he said. “They breed prolifically and cause damage quickly.”

The damage he described has started on foundations and concrete structures along the Salmon River, including behind the historic Horton Mill.

He said that as the roots of the tree collect water and expand, they push with such force that they punch through and cause breeches between stones or seams and crack solid walls.

Once they get a foothold, the root swelling continues, the cracks get wider, and eventually the stone or concrete breaks off and compromises the supportive structures.

The section behind Horton Mill “is unprotected, and it will push the stones and wall right into the river,” he said.

According to the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, which is researching the mill’s history, the original grist mill was built with wood before 1806 by one of Malone’s first settlers, John Wood. But it was washed out and eventually torn down in 1853. Hiram Horton purchased the land and rebuilt the mill with stone in nearly the same spot.

Horton Mill was placed on the National Historic Register in 1975.

LANDSCAPE ‘NIGHTMARE’

Some say the ground beneath the structure is compromised and the building could fall into the river and endanger the village’s main water line nearby that brings water from Chasm Falls into Malone.

“It’s astounding what these trees can do,” Chapman said.

According to Alabama forestry guide Steve Nix on about.com, “the box elder is a rather nasty tree where limbs break with a vengeance — a landscape-maintenance nightmare.

“The fruit droops in clusters, which some describe as looking like ‘dirty brown socks,’ which adds to the overall trashy look of the tree,” Nix said. 

According to aboutmapletrees.com, they can grow between 30 and 50 feet and thrive in wet or dry soil.

Its wind-borne seeds spread quickly, and trees are commonly found along fence lines, buildings, railroad beds and farm fields.

Its root shoots create thickets “that shade out smaller, more desirable plants,” the website states.

EDUCATION PROJECT

Chapman’s work with local trees is already known to the Village Board.

He received permission in March to conduct the Tree Planting Education Project in conjunction with students in Carol Robinson’s fifth-grade class at Flanders Elementary School.

More than 200 trees were planted by the students at the Malone Recreation Park, giving them hands-on experience in caring for nature.

“I can’t say enough good things about that man,” Robinson said. “He’s a genius, and the kids learn so much.

“Anytime you have someone coming into your classroom, you get a little leery,” she said. “But right from the start, he made me feel so comfortable, and the kids just love him.”

Chapman is a medical doctor who works in Vermont and spends about two hours per classroom visit, teaching the children about trees and nature.

“We walk to the Rec Park, so the kids get phys ed in at the same time as science,” she said. “We go up and feed the trees and care for them.”

The program turned into something much more valuable than anyone realized.

“We thought it was going to be a one-shot deal, but he ended up coming back two times a month,” Robinson said. “He’s coming back this year, so we’ll keep on going.”

She said Chapman adds much to the kids’ education on many topics.

“He’s got all the background on the history of the Adirondacks, and he teaches them unbelievable stuff — stuff they haven’t been taught but should know because we live in the Adirondacks,” she said.

“Other people say, ‘We want him. We want him.’ But he’s mine,” Robinson said. “Whatever he wants to do this year, I’m just going to go with it.”

TRICKY MANEUVER

Chapman told the Village Board he’s afraid Malone will lose a piece of its history if ashleaf maple isn’t brought under control.

Horton Mill is the oldest standing structure in Franklin County, but the supportive ground and retaining wall beneath its east side could collapse and drop into the river.

That could endanger the trout population and other wildlife and plants that rely on the Salmon River to survive.

“If we don’t stop this, we won’t have as much to teach the kids,” he said.

His solution is environmentally friendly but somewhat dangerous for the village DPW employees expected to do the work.

Ashleaf maple can be killed off with industrial-strength Roundup weed-control spray, which seeps down and kills the roots.

He said it costs about $44 a gallon, immediately biodegrades and starts killing the plant in 20 minutes.

But getting to the nuisance trees and maneuvering any needed machinery along the riverside will be a challenge.

Village DPW Superintendent Paul Hutchins said protecting the shoreline is important, “but we’ve got to be careful because I don’t want anyone getting hurt for the sake of getting trees out of there.

“We have to consider the risk to the people who would be going down in there,” he said.

His workers have had to concentrate on other jobs this summer to take advantage of the mild weather, and Hutchins said the job will be safer, easier and more visible in a few weeks when the leaves are gone.

That’s when he will send his people in to get rid of the weed trees.

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com