State delays cutting down Tenney farm tree, will get second opinion on its health

  • An old, dying maple tree that stands Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in a commuter parking lot off Interstate 91 in Ascutney, Vt. The land was once part of a farm belonging to Romaine Tenney, whose farm was seized in 1964 to make way for the interstate highway. Tenney burned his barn and his home, with him inside. The tree is going to be removed and the state of Vermont is now looking for a way to remember Tenney. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/19/2019 10:08:48 PM
Modified: 11/19/2019 10:27:44 PM

ASCUTNEY — The state will delay plans to cut down a beleaguered tree and pay for a second opinion from an arborist as town and state officials seek solutions for a century-old maple that has stirred calls for preservation as the last visible remnant of a farm owned by the late Romaine Tenney.

Selectboard members and state officials with the Vermont Agency of Transportation agreed Monday night that Interim Weathersfield Town Manager Sven Fedorow would contact area arborists and send those names to the state, which would then decide whom to hire for another examination of the tree.

“VTrans has agreed to postpone removing the tree until further evaluation, and we will also work with the town on a historical marker (for Tenney),” Andrea Wright, the right of way and environmental program manager with the Agency of Transportation, said Tuesday.

The concession to community outcry may help the state stem a controversy that paralleled the events before Tenney’s death in 1964. Despite repeated Tenney’s repeated refusal to sell the farm, the state seized his property to make way for Interstate 91, after which Tenney burned his farmhouse and took his own life.

Those wounds were reopened for some in the community earlier this year, when an arborist hired by the state determined that the maple tree, which sits on the edge of the park and ride off Exit 8, was mostly dead and could not be saved.

With the pending removal of the last piece of Tenney’s farm, a public meeting late last month that was supposed to be about a memorial for Tenney instead became a demand from many residents to save the tree. That was followed by a formal request from the Selectboard to hold off cutting down the tree and an invitation to state officials to come to Monday’s meeting, which led to the agreement for a second arborist.

On Tuesday, Selectboard member Dave Fuller, who joined others at the October meeting demanding the tree be saved, said he has softened his position somewhat and has recognized that “eventually it will have to come down.” About 10 years ago, cables were installed to stabilize the tree, which is more than 100 years old and 80 feet tall.

When it does come down, Fuller and others said, they hope the tree’s base, about 8 to 10 feet below a large cavity, can be saved. One idea Fuller mentioned Tuesday was an eternal flame placed in a carved-out section of the trunk with a small window.

“It could signify Romaine Tenney never left,” Fuller said.

The board also discussed removing some of the limbs and branches that pose a danger to vehicles and pedestrians in the park and ride and will have the arborist consider that as well. Fedorow said if nothing is done the state would likely close off about seven parking spaces at the heavily used park and ride to limit its liability.

“Losing seven spaces could be problematic,” Fedorow said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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