Trees to be cut down in Hartford’s Elizabeth Park

Trees to be cut down in Hartford’s Elizabeth Park

In Elizabeth Park in Hartford, trees that have been standing for nearly a century have papers stuck on them indicating they are due to be felled this summer.

City Forester Heather Dionne said it is part of a larger problem affecting mature trees throughout Hartford’s historic park system and state.

“We are dealing with five droughts since 2016 that have caused structural problems in many of our mature oak trees and have resulted in significant decay,” Dionne said. “When trees go without water for such a long period of time, their vascular systems dry up and they are no longer able to contain the decay, ultimately becoming a risk to public safety.”

In recent years 2016, 2020 and 2022, the Northeast experienced unprecedented drought conditions not seen since the 1960s, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

Dionne said she’s noticing more tree decline than in the past as she inspects the city’s trees for voids, cracks in the trunks, dead crowns and fungi, all of which indicate the trees’ health. If trees are found to be dying, the city will allocate funds for logging based on the degree of decay.

“Some of the younger trees can have problems, but we haven’t had too many problems with those,” Dionne said. “It’s the older trees that really have a problem because of their size and weight.”

Six mature trees estimated to be between 80 and over 100 years old are slated to be felled in the city’s Elizabeth Park over the next few weeks. However, that number could rise if more trees are deemed a public safety hazard due to rot. Most of the trees identified are near the park entrance, which leads to the popular Pond House Café, and another near the tennis courts.

Signs are posted on the trees in Elizabeth Park in Hartford to inform the public of their removal. (Aaron Fluff/Hartford Courant)

“It’s going to be a process as there’s also a significant amount of pruning and dead branch removal that needs to be done,” Dionne said. “I try to rotate parks every year for maintenance. I’m also starting work at Keney Park golf course and we have very similar problems there. It’s actually worse there in terms of the number of trees that have to be felled due to rot.”

Dionne said that while it’s difficult to estimate the cost of tree maintenance in Elizabeth Park, she said it could cost the city well over $300,000. Hartford contracts with three tree felling companies: SavATree, Northern Tree Services and J&J Brothers.

“Each of these companies goes through a very competitive bidding process,” said Dionne. “With two contractors currently being used, who is available to work at Elizabeth Park is critical. A contractor is completing the road cut and another contractor is working on the Keney Park golf course. We don’t enjoy cutting down trees, but it’s about public safety.”

Experts across the state say declining tree health is just another sign of a much larger problem affecting the state’s trees.

Thomas Worthley, forest ranger and associate professor at UConn Extension, said climate change is responsible for a variety of stressors on the state’s tree population, from invasive insects to greater temperature swings.

“While the drought has had a negative impact, we also have this problem with the sponge moth caterpillars eating leaves and defoliating trees,” Worthley said. “The role of climate is that it changes precipitation patterns so that we get a lot of rain in the winter but are dry in the spring and summer. The drought in spring reduces the influence of a soil fungus that actually kills the caterpillars. So when the fungus is not active, the caterpillar population continues to thrive and defoliates trees, leading to their death.”

Though climate change has negatively impacted many trees in the state, Worthley said it’s important that conservation continue to play a central role in planting new tree species that are well-suited to their environments.

Signs are posted on the trees in Elizabeth Park in Hartford to inform the public of their removal.  (Aaron Fluff/Hartford Courant)Signs are posted on the trees in Elizabeth Park in Hartford to inform the public of their removal. (Aaron Fluff/Hartford Courant)

“It’s about growing new trees and making an investment to replace trees that need to be removed,” Worthley said. “Growing something else in its place can offset some of the carbon loss. If we remove a tree and replace it with steel and concrete, we are making the climate crisis worse. A newly planted tree can absorb carbon from the atmosphere for many decades.”

But for those who visit Elizabeth Park and stroll under its sprawling canopy, the loss of centuries-old trees is disheartening

“I love running there, but I just feel like Elizabeth Park has more stumps than ever,” said West Hartford’s Arianna D’Agosto. “I feel like it’s kind of devastating. For the people of Hartford, the park is their sanctuary to be outside and in the shade. ”

D’Agosto, a licensed RN, said the park provides much-needed stress relief and mental health benefits.

“I’m just worried that if we cut down the trees in our parks every year, we’re taking nature away,” D’Agosto said. “I feel good when I’m in nature and I want to make sure others can continue to enjoy the benefits of our parks.”

Dionne said new trees are expected to be planted in parks across the city to replace the trees that have been cut down.

Stephen Underwood can be reached at