Updated: Jan 9
Despite the pleas of residents, there is no guarantee that many of Chandler Mill’s 100+ year old trees alongside the road will survive
Between endless delays, cost-overruns, opposition by local landowners, and concerns about the environmental impact of the $7,000,000 1.4 mile Chandler Mill Trail (CMT), advocates for the struggling Kennett Greenway were offered a lifeline when Supervisors agreed to drain Township reserves and borrow money in their 2023 budget in an attempt to finally begin construction. Our review of plans reveal that a wide swath along the western edge of much of the road would have to be clear cut, magnifying concerns about CMTs environmental impact. Almost every tree within 15-20’ of the road between Chandler Mill Bridge and Hillendale Rd would be removed. And the designers can offer few meaningful guarantees that 20-30 older and more established trees they agreed to protect will actually survive. We project that it will take at least 2-3 generations before the canopy over the road and the stream begins to be restored. In the meantime, the unique charm of one of Kennett’s last country roads may well be lost forever, leaving with the township millions poorer in the process for a trail that will end in a field.
Why clear-cut such a wide swath for a sidepath just 6’ wide? Plans presented privately to Township Supervisors last April (but curiously absent from the township's website) detail the design of the path along different sections of CMT. These plans document the extent of the destruction that varies somewhat across different sections. Consider the most typical scenario above. The combination of a 6-8’ wide sidepath for pedestrians, a 2-4’ wide planted buffer between the sidepath and the road, and an additional 5-10’ of fill creates a total “area of disturbance” of at least 15’ alongside the road. This widens to 20’ wherever the shoulder drops off because of the increased backslope of the path.
It is important to note that the area of potential destruction often extends beyond the area of disturbance. Our own research and discussions with arborists confirm that most trees are likely to die if more than 25% of their “critical root zone” (CRT) is disturbed, unless special measures are taken (described later). For a 120 year old oak 2 feet in diameter, for example, activity within an area of disturbance beginning within 14’ of its trunk may begin to kill the tree. The plans call for a tree to be cut down if more than 30% of its CRT falls within the zone of disturbance.
The 20’ wide swath of destruction alongside CMR is confirmed on pages 19-29 of plans posted on Kennett’s website (for a sense of scale, the swath of destruction is about the same width as the 18’ wide road). Every tree marked with an X is slated to be cut down. The impact extends the 8000’ length of Chandler Mill Road, except for the 600’ boardwalk section in the middle (see pg. 40).
What could this look like? Consider this section at the northern end of the sidepath just south of Hillendale Rd (see picture below looking south, and pp. 28-29 in the plan). The road is narrowed to 12’ to create a one-way yield section, because there is insufficient space to accommodate the sidepath between the creek and the road . The result is that almost every single tree between the creek and the road (in the black and white area in the picture) for more than 150 to 200 yards will be destroyed. The vista is confirmed by a schematic provided by the designers in the plans presented last April (see slide 41) showing that no trees remain between the creek and the road for almost as far as the eye can see.
Consider another section, where Bucktoe Creek Preserve touches Chandler Mill Road, just south of the small bridge into the property (see picture left looking south, and p. 23 in the plan). Again, this is a section where the road is narrowed to 12’ to create a one-way yield section, because there is insufficient space to accommodate the sidepath between the creek and the road. And again, virtually every tree in the black and white area in the picture, and the red rectangle in the diagram between the creek and the road, will be cut down for 150 to 200 yards. We can document similar scenarios along the entire length of the road, save the boardwalk section.
The decision by designers to clear-cut trees along these particular sections comes with other costs. For example, it further weakens an already vulnerable streambank, requiring hundreds of feet of expensive gabion walls to prevent the streambank from crumbling into the creek. The loss of shade will not only make the road more uncomfortable for users, but will increase the sunlight than allow invasives to take over. This increases the need for maintenance, but no specific plan has been devised (see below).
In total, the plan calls for over 300 trees to be destroyed. There are about 41 of the tallest trees that the designers considered sparing, all native trees in good condition and at least 24” in diameter (in green on the plans). Even then, at least one-third will be destroyed, and we predict that this number will increase significantly, for several reasons.
We counted at least 15 trees whose trunks are within the area of disturbance, and would die without “special protective measures”. These measures are referenced in a separate document (see examples on p. 43-44).
In response to concerns from residents, the designers also acknowledged that other trees not immediately cut down could nonetheless suffer damage in the construction process (e.g., trees with less than 30% of their CRT in the area of disturbance). Weakened by the damage, the tree becomes vulnerable to other factors that together can slowly kill it. After pressure from residents, designers finally agreed to also take steps to protect these other tree in the are of disturbance.
Our inquiries have failed to yield any plans that commit the designers to monitor the health of existing trees or take special action to in the future (for example, replace any trees that die after the one-year period standard to many construction agreements). The kind of damage we are concerned about would not kill the tree immediately, but would lead to a slow death over several years, long after the last of more than $1,000,000 in payouts to designers has been cashed in.
Would the canopy of trees overcrowding the road and giving it its charm ever recover? Possibly, but not for generations. It has probably taken 75 years for the 60+ mature trees within 20-30' of the road on the creek side to grow. Until new trees reach the height needed to offer a comparable canopy, every tree and shrub will have to compete with invasive species with even more sunlight to grow. We therefore project that it will take at least 2-3 generations before the canopy over the road and the stream might begin to be restored. Even then, the trees will never crowd overhead now that the sidepath effectively widens the cleared roadway by 8-12'. So if we are lucky, our grandchildren or great grandchildren might enjoy a partially shaded walk by the road.