The Nose is a bit of tree hugger--especially this time of year. When the thermometer shoots up, a stroll down city sidewalks definitely feels less melty when shaded by verdant boughs. So imagine our horror when we were out walking about two weeks ago and saw a linden tree dueling with a backhoe near the corner of Park Avenue and Centre Street. The linden lost, and ended up a splintery heap on the cement. Little did we know this sylvan slaying in front of the Maryland Historical Society's (MHS) giant Nipper statue was but one shot in what could be called Mount Vernon's War on the Trees. A wealth of woody casualties can be seen on the south side of the 200 block of Monument Street, near the Historical Society's main entrance. A leafy canopy recently shaded the sidewalks here. Now the sun roars down on 10 stumps. Every last tree has been chopped down.
"We had nothing to do with it--it was a city decision," says MHS Director Dennis Fiori, heading off rumors that the Historical Society wanted the trees axed to increase its visibility to passers-by.
The block that houses the MHS campus/compound is one of the first in Mount Vernon subject to a Downtown Partnership-driven "Baltimore Beautification Program." Fancy new sidewalks are part of the plan. City Department of Public Works spokesperson Kurt Kocher says these older trees were removed out of fear that their roots would soon damage the new streetscape. They are to be replaced with trees "more in scale and keeping with the area."
"It was rather drastic," Kocher adds. "No one likes to see large trees come down in an historic area, but the plans did go through the city forestry department."
So is the "Baltimore Beautification Program," which is slated to affect many more midtown blocks, tantamount to a death sentence for the area's older trees? "Absolutely not," says Downtown Partnership President Michele Whelley, who blames the recent tree razings on "miscommunication" between city agencies.
"The only trees that are supposed to be cut down are those that are dead or are taking their last breath," she says. "The goal is to introduce as much greenery as possible."
As it turns out, just around the corner from Monument Street's row of fresh stumps lie more wooden worries. The trees lining the west side of the 700 block of North Howard Street are still alive, but they've been so brutally hacked up that some area residents feel many may soon expire. "What kind of knucklehead, Three Stooges tree trimmers did they send out here?," asks Laure Drogoul, staring up at the mangled limbs in front of her home at 706 N. Howard St.
Kocher can't answer that one. He tells the Nose his department wasn't responsible for the Howard hackings. As the trees are adjacent to light-rail power lines, Kocher speculates that the Mass Transit Administration might have wielded the ax in this case. MTA officials did not respond to the Nose's inquiries into the matter by press time.