By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – If all goes according to plan, the massive pine in Updike Park that has served as the town Christmas tree for many years will make its final appearance in the spotlight this holiday season.
And, in the evergreen equivalent of “All About Eve”, a gorgeous ingénue is waiting in the wings.
“We have been talking about trying to put a better tree in Updike Park,” says public works director Phil Bergeron. The old tree has become “very tall, thinned out” to the point that the entire thing “can’t be lit.”
Enter the ingénue – a gorgeously-proportioned, 20-foot blue spruce that sits on the north end of the lawn abutting the town beach.
Relocating that specimen to accommodate the extensive “North Kingstown Town Beach Action Plan” prepared by the landscape architectural firm of GLA/BETA solves two problems, Bergeron notes. The old tree can be cut down and the new tree installed.
“We felt there was an opportunity to exchange [the old tree] for the blue spruce once Beechwood House got moved.”
As it happens, the window of opportunity to make the move this year was slammed shut when tree warden Dave Nickerson failed to examine both evergreens. “We had hoped to get this done last spring, but he didn’t get to it,” says Bergeron. “We made the decision not to relocate [the blue spruce] this fall. The time line was upon us.”
At Monday night’s council meeting, landscape architect Don Leighton, representing GLA/BETA, offered a detailed presentation including site maps and overlays of the beach development plan. It will require two to three years to implement changes as small as relocating a flagpole and as extensive as improving drainage.
After Leighton was done, Bergeron says he went into the hallway, accompanied by several audience members who were “all very pleased” with the plan. While he was absent, spokesmen for the Wickford Merchants Association requested $12,000 from the council’s contingency fund for the Festival of Lights.
According to Town Councilman Chuck Brennan, although the council was “uncomfortable giving money during a tough economic year” especially since it doesn’t fund other groups, “we gave them $7,000.” They had asked for $12,000 and said it costs $20,000 to stage the event.
After receiving approval for a donation, festival representatives “just began talking about trees in Updike Park,” Brennan says.
Moving the blue spruce is no longer a done deal.
“We’re not going to do anything at this point,” says Bergeron. “It’s yet to be determined if we’re going to move the [blue spruce] or if it costs too much.” He’s also concerned with finding a company of tree specialists that will guarantee the health of the fir after it’s moved.
The alternative – purchasing a new evergreen– may also be too costly, he notes. During a discussion with members of the merchants association and Chamber of Commerce personnel, “some are in favor; some indecisive.” His big concern is that if the blue spruce isn’t moved soon – spring would be ideal — it will be too late because the tree’s size will be too great.
“The old tree is not seriously unhealthy but it’s thinning,” Bergeron says. “Our bucket truck doesn’t reach that high. For this season we’re not doing anything.”
On the other hand and adding to the confusion, Town Manager Michael Embury old councilors the Updike Park tree “is coming down this year.”
So what is the final determination? Everyone is stumped.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is a freelance writer for SRIN.