One, Red Maple Tree

The Red Maple in the featured image was recently the subject of community post on Facebook. My cousin, Kathy Calabrese, is a long time resident of Bryson City, NC and has frequently sat in the shade of the majestic and solitary tree. It has been a landmark for all those who live in the neighborhood and who visit the library in seek of knowledge and social exchange.

Kathy’s January 15th post originally read as follows:

Shocked to see and hear chainsaws at the Swain library this morning at work on the beautiful maple tree in the front yard! I asked why, and one of the guys tells me it’s not coming down. “All the trees in the county are getting trimmed.” “Trimmed”?! Isn’t such dramatic limb lopping bad for trees? To say nothing about disfigurement. Am I over- reacting?

Kathy was not over reacting at all. As Certified Arborist, I can tell you, this sort of pruning looks like a complete take down. All branches are removed to a safe point before making the final cut on the trunk to completely take the tree down.

As her Facebook post came into the feeds of her friends, there were a number of people who confirmed her concern.

Adam Bigelow, a NC resdident replies:

You are not wrong, this is a horrible practice called “Topping” and it is said to remove dangerous branches that might fall. What it really does is cause the rampant and continued growth of new, weak branches that will either definitely fall once fully grown, or will need continued and repeated topping. This practice is common, and creates continued work for shady (Ha) arborists and landscapers. Topping can best be seen in Waynesville and Hazelwood. In Cullowhee, a company recently topped a set of weeping Riverbirch trees at the gas station. ridiculous practice that needs to stop! If possible, reach out to the Bryson City Town Council and Manager

Jeff Fouts, a NC resident replies:

Adam, western NC is the first place in the country that I have ever seen “topping”. In fact, I read an article a year or so ago that said this practice is kind localized to this area of NC (or even the country) and that scores of other NC arborists agree that this practice is abhorrent. Is that your take as well?

Joseph Mellone, a HI resident replies:

I’m a Certified Arborist Cuz … and love taking care of trees. I would be really surprised if there was an Arborist on this project making those cut decisions. Like Adam and John say, the tree will not be a happy tree anymore. The branches left in the photo were beautiful. Careful reduction of them could have been done, but it was not that big and very healthy. Such a majestic spot too … the tree looking over the street and neighborhood. All that shade gone now for the summer. I would file a complaint with the county or whoever is doing this. They just compromised the whole environment that tree contributed too.

With the advent of climate change and the concerns about the importance of trees and how they can help restore our current situation, I’ve taken note and have been more aware of these large plants that provide for us, shade, food, companionship to name a few of the personal benefits. They also sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and return it to the earth in the form of a living organism, while returning oxygen to the atmosphere.

There are many more replies with a plethora of information on what Kathy saw and you can read them in full here Facebook Post.

Currently in the field of tree care, I’m trying to think of what I can do to help my cousin and her community. Even at a great physical distance from the tree, myself currently in the middle of the Pacific ocean, started to investigate.

I learned about the Library and how it was founded by Marianna in 1929. This is a wonderful article and video of the libraries roots here Marianna Library History.

The story of Marianna is wonderful. What started as passing out books in her community, turned into a real library that stands till this day at 33 Fryemont Street, Bryson City, NC. Notice how our Red Maple is forefront to the building.

mbl today 1

Marianna Black Library

In my research I also came across Marianna’s favorite quote by Mary S. Edgar, a beautiful tribute to life and giving, all of which the Red Maple has been doing in its solitary location for nearly 50 years.

“I will follow the upward road today; I will keep my face to the
light. I will think high thoughts as I go my way; I will do what I know is right. I will look for the flowers by the side of the road; I will laugh and love and be strong. I will try to lighten another’s load this day as I fare along.” —Mary S. Edgar

So now … I’m committed to determine what has gone on here? Who made the decision to trim the tree so inappropriately and how can we prevent this from happening in the future, in this beautiful Appalachian town that borders the Great Smokey Mountains.

Bryson City, NC

I start to research who made the decision and contacted the town hall.

This trimming was totally unnecessary. Marianna Black Library at 33 Fryemont Street, Bryson City, NC 28713. I have left a message at the town hall website and will follow up with a phone call.

They promptly replied and told me they were not responsible for the tree trimming and that Swain County or the Library authorized this and that I should contact the library.

I located the County Librarian and contacted him. leaving a voice mail.

I left a message with Jeff Delfield, the county librarian to see who the Certified Arborist was for the project. I’ve not seen the completed work. Perhaps someone can post a picture in this thread so we can all see it. I’m thinking that a new tree or trees should be planted of the same species along side this one while it tries to recover. Trees are social creatures and do share resources. I feel new plantings would be beneficial here and in the unfortunate event that the tree does not recover, the younger trees would be there in the future. By bringing awareness to the poor trimming we can prevent future toppings in your town.

Jeff had been in a meeting all day and took his personal time to respond to me across time zones. It was probably around 7pm his evening when we talked. He explained that he relies on Swain County to keep the tree trimmed. He said the tree was getting tall and did need some pruning. He also said there was a split in the trunk. There are other ways to deal with splits than to lighten the load which is what Jeff thought they did. So the next step is to contact Swain County to see if there is an Arborist on staff who would have authorized this.

So off to the county where I contacted Kevin King, the County Manager;

Dear Kevin,

My name is Joe Mellone. I’m a Certified Arborist (WE-11522A) and was recently contacted by a relative who lives in Bryson. She was concerned about the old Red Maple tree that was recently trimmed right outside the library. From the photo that I saw of the workers trimming it, it was clear the resulting pruning left the tree in a hazardous state. The topping of all branches is a detrimental practice and all new growth will be weaker if it can grow at all.

As I researched more about that tree and the landmark of the Library, I discovered the rich history of it and how Marianna came to Bryson and established the Library. I also saw pictures of the community playing music under the tree in the shade it provided.

I spoke with Jeff Delfield of the library and he said your crew trimmed it and also said it has a split. If there was a safety issue with the split, there may have been other ways to deal with it depending on the condition.

My main reason for contacting you is to understand who the Arborist is on staff who made that decision and to help foster more healthy alternatives to pruning trees in your community. There are many folks who are upset about this trimming and also other trees in your community.

As you may know, trees are one of our first defenses to climate change and the shade alone on those wonderful hot sunny days is key to the welcomeness of your community.

For the Red Maple at the Marianna Library, I think new trees could be planted there too which could provide shade for the community in the future. The existing tree may have to come down now that it has been topped, but could be managed and monitored over the next year for new growth and restorative pruning. I would be glad to advise as needed.

Please let me know next steps and if you would like to speak with me.

Thank you for your time.

Joe Mellone

I am currently waiting for Kevin’s reply and my cousin Kathy Calabrese is local to the community and will contact them as well.

Here is a photo of our Red Maple enjoying the summer sun.


It was such a perfect little tree, just sitting on the corner, watching and living and bringing joy to all who passed by or as Kathy posted:

I just enjoyed sitting under and with her.

I hope to get a reply from Kevin King shortly and find out if such practices can be changed. If there was hazardous split and the tree was a risk to pedestrians, it could have been braced to give it more life.

There are times; however, when a tree does have to come down, having lived its life fully. In such an event, a new tree should be planted in its place. Make that two trees, because they are social creatures and life, after all, is best enjoyed with others.



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