The benefits versus the cost of taking down the trees in Oak Hills Park

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Jim Schell, the superintendent of the golf course in Oak Hills, and Eversource both want to remove trees from the park.

Eversource  wants to remove trees to protect the power lines.  Mr. Schell wants to remove trees from the golf course for five reasons stipulated by the United States Golf Association:

  1. As trees grow they can crowd the line of play.
  2. The shade from trees limits turf growth.
  3. The leaves and sticks that fall from trees add to the cost of maintaining the course.
  4. The root systems of trees compete with turf for water and nutrients and damage mowing equipment.
  5. Trees squeeze the lines of play making courses too challenging for the average golfer.

Hence, as Diane Lauricella pointed out in a letter to Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Carr and Tree Warden Chris Torre, “there has been a long history of unwise tree removal efforts at this public park.”  And that is doubly concerning because the golf course in the park is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

Now Eversource intends to cut down eight magnificent Spruce trees lining the Marshall Drive entrance to the Park because it views them as threatening adjacent power lines.  While I understand Eversource’s reasoning, I have reached out to them to consider whether the benefit of slightly reducing the chance of a power outage is worth the cost measured by the trees contribution to the appearance and ecological wellbeing of the park.

No one from Eversource has gotten back to me.

See below for photos of trees that have been cut down in Oak Hills over the years in order to make the park more golfer friendly.

In 2005 the OHPA cut down trees to “improve” the view from the newly built restaurant.

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

On January 22, 2015 a magnificent tree on the 17th green was cut down.

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

The pond at the back of the course used to be surrounded by trees.  Now they are gone.

See the three photos below.

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

The 10 pictures below were taken in Oak Hills from 2015 to 2017.

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

All but one of the trees below were at the entrance to Charles Marshall Drive and all were cut down by the OHPA in 2016.  The one exception was the one closest to Fillow Street.  That tree brought down a power line it was up against when it was felled by tropical storm Isaias in August 2020.

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)

(Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)


Yvonne “Myška” Lopaur)


M Murray December 10, 2020 at 6:44 am

Can’t they plant a few trees deeper in the park in an out of the way location to compensate for the loss of the trees and help maintain the power grid and improve the course at the same time? A perfect balance.

John O'Neill December 10, 2020 at 8:47 am

I’m going to try my best to contain my comments to the facts and not be impolite. My original thoughts would never make it past moderators.
It would be informative if the writer above can spend the next month counting the trees on Oak Hills and revert back to us we can put this issue in context.
It should be pointed out that I love trees. But I also love my air conditioning and a cold Budweiser in August. Call me spoiled, but I’m just being honest.
One last minor point regarding Eversource and our local state Reps.(You know the people you just re-elected last month) All the hysteria this past summer about electric bills and our elected reps pledging to fix the issue turns out to be bogus. If you haven’t seen it our Electric Bills will be going up by about 5% beginning in January. It would be nice if Chris Perone (theoretically he’s on the Energy Committee, but hasn’t been to a meeting since the Mets won a World Series) would fight a little harder for Norwalkers. But hey, the people in the 137th have spoken and now they are to be punished…..Again.

Patrick McMahon December 10, 2020 at 9:31 am

At no point did you illustrate the “benefit vs. cost of taking down trees” as the title of your “article” would suggest. This is blatant pandering to a small group of citizens whom can’t seem to grasp that Oak Hills Park is a GOLF COURSE and has been for over 50 years! Publishing photos of trees being removed with no context as to the reasoning behind the removals is irresponsible and one sided, what are you trying to prove here? Where is Ms. Lauricella’s evidence that tree removals in the past were “unwise”? Are you yourself, or Ms. Lauricella agronomists? Do you know the impact that trees and shade can have on grass? I would guess not.

I can’t claim to know all the answers but a quick google search revealed that trees can be detrimental to turf…which golf is played on. If removals are done selectively and for good reason how can we have an issue with the way the park is being maintained? 50 years is a long time and I am sure many of these trees had become a issue to golfers and maintenance staff alike. Would you rather the Superintendent use more water and fertilizer to keep the greens alive? I thought that was bad? Spend more money on labor and equipment repairs? I though that was bad?

I think we need to take a step back and realize this is a golf course which needs to be maintained as such. Last time I played, even with these past removals, I noticed thousands of trees and beautiful grass, both providing ecological benefits to the residents of Norwalk.

I have no agenda here, unlike some, but wouldn’t it make sense to have the view from both sides of the issue before publishing an article?

Priscilla Feral December 10, 2020 at 9:47 am

If anything, environmentalists should be ditching the pesticides used at golf courses, which create chemical dead zones, and planting trees because they benefit the atmosphere by providing carbon dioxide and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Trees reduce erosion and are so important for our ecosystem — helping animals and insects survive. If trees are making the golf course more difficult than maybe the golfer needs more lessons.

Harold Cobin December 10, 2020 at 10:34 am

Yes, reducing the chance of a power outage is worth it, and there’s nothing slight about it. People’s lives depend on the power from that right-of-way. Not to mention the businesses and residences being serviced by it.

Louise Washer December 10, 2020 at 10:37 am

Norwalk’s tree canopy is the most depleted in all of Western Connecticut according to a 2018 study by WestCOG. Trees help clean the air (Norwalk has asthma rates higher than average for the state), reduce flooding, improve water quality, and provide habitat for declining populations of birds and pollinators. The city should consider cutting trees only as a last resort. Eversource has shown itself to regard the clearing of rights-of-ways as a matter of course. Across the state, the company has reversed decades of best practices for vegetation management in ROWs used by its predecessor which is causing alarm in the scientific and conservation communities. The city should push back on this plan to further deplete our tree canopy. And offering to replace 50-year-old trees with saplings is not an acceptable solution.

Bill Waters December 10, 2020 at 11:20 am

I already gave a solution. Have Eversource (or the city) plant new trees to replace the ones being taken down. Those pines are ugly. Plant new, aesthetically pleasing trees. It will make the park even prettier. Win-win.

Ursula Caterbone December 10, 2020 at 11:44 am

Most of Jim Schell’s reasons for removing trees are pathetic and would be laughable if golf courses weren’t so damaging to our environment. Their quest for the perfect turf means polluting the turf and water with hazardous
chemicals. It’s no surprise that his attitude toward trees is to get rid of them.
Fairfield County is a heavily treed environment. Norwalk touts itself as the Tree City. A Norwalk golf course should adapt to that, not fight it.

Bryan Meek December 10, 2020 at 1:20 pm

“And that is doubly concerning because the golf course in the park is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.“

Besides WPCA and NPA which are self sustaining enterprise zones, OHPA is actually the LEAST subsidized department / agency in the city BY FAR.

Recs and Parks collects about 1/4th of its operating budget from user fees and permits. 3/4ths of it is subsidized. OHPAs subsidy is a tiny fraction of that….and every other department / agency in the city is nearly 100% subsidized. So please spare us with your war on OHPA.

Audrey Cozzarin December 10, 2020 at 1:52 pm

We are engaged in the sort of clash between humans and nature that I thought might occur way off in the future, but here we are.

Humans of course view our need for electrical power upon which we have become dependent as taking precedence over nature’s need which just “is”, existing without voice or agenda. The larger view considers what is healthiest for both, because we are nature and nature includes us. We are not separate from nature.

I think we are all smart enough to see that we can’t keep taking from the earth endlessly. The reality is we have a low tree canopy and habitat loss in our area. Restoring rather than destroying is preferable, and I think we can all agree on that. This is a worthwhile discussion to ask how we want to live.

The latest environmental science can be applied here in Norwalk, and there are experts on both the local and state level (CT-DEEP). The city personnel involved in this situation are more open-minded than you might know. The park itself has a nature advisory committee that helps oversee 11.5 acres of protected woodlands next to the golf course. And Eversource has the task of keeping our lights lit and mandate to get everything potentially damaging to the lines out of the way. That is where the clash rears its head.

I think we are at a crossroads here in Norwalk, and please, we need all hands on deck. From conversation can come resolution. Learning more about restoring the natural world, such as allowing rights-of-way “shrubland” to grow which helps disturbed areas and provides key habitat, is something we can all do with info to share–so we are all have a stake in this. CT-DEEP is a wonderful resource for establishing new habitat at Oak Hills Park and elsewhere, as well as our own experts here in Norwalk.

Myska, I would like the Spruces to remain. In the event they cannot, may they be the last beautiful trees cut down for a long time to come until we restore our natural environment for the health of all.

Tysen Canevari December 10, 2020 at 1:56 pm

If you have time to investigate the trees at the golf course and take all those pictures then you should think about volunteering somewhere to be helpful. Are you going to take pictures of all the dogs that pee and poop in Taylor farm next? Is that damaging to the environment. Its beyond ridiculous sometimes.

Carl E Dickens December 10, 2020 at 3:42 pm

It is easy to comment on things that are not truly understood. Golf courses are not damaging to our environment; Please show me the evidence of that. There are no hazardous materials used at the course, and runoff is managed. In fact, the chemicals you use on your lawn are more harmful than those used at a Golf Course.

Carl E Dickens December 10, 2020 at 3:52 pm

Can we put something to rest. In every comment that Ms. Lopaur makes regards Oak Hills she always says, ” Heavily Supported by Norwalk Tax Payers.” WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Oak Hills is self-sustaining from the revenue it receives from Golf, Tennis, and Food and Beverage Sales. Please make an effort to keep the facts correct.

cc-rider December 10, 2020 at 6:02 pm

Ah yes, the age old quest for perfect turf! The trees and grass duke it out for the two things they both need- sun light and water!

Patrick McMahon December 11, 2020 at 12:07 pm

The fact is that none of us, supporter or opposition of the OHPA really know what it takes to properly maintain the course. The constant attacks are tiresome and aren’t accomplishing anything. I like to golf so I care about Oak Hills as a golf course and I view it as an asset to the city and its residents. Obviously we have a number of people who NEED to be heard and NEED to complain about things they do not truly understand.

Ms. Lopaur, what did you intend to accomplish with this? You make no valid points and did not even present an argument. This is propaganda plain and simple. I’m constantly reading things from you and the anti OHPA people about the water use, fertilizer use, chemical use, trees, the restaurant, etc…What is your end game? Should we talk with someone associated with OHPA to understand how they subsidize and maintain the course before we slander?

Norwalk is a large city, if you are truly worried about pesticide use, fertilizer and water use start focusing on the citizens, who I can guarantee, do far more harm to the city than Oak Hills does. I see multiple tree companies working everyday around the city on private and public property, where is the outcry? Landscape companies and homeowners improperly applying fertilizer and pesticides that will eventually run off into storm drains and into the Sound, where is the outcry?

I hope everyone involved in your quest to ruin OHPA can take the blinders off and see what we have for what it is…A beautiful park and golf course that benefits Norwalk and its residents. Many cities and towns would love to have what we do, stop trying to take it down with a selfish agenda.

Bryan Meek December 11, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Carl is correct. The “subsidy” that everyone refers to is the occasional help the city gives to the debt service for Alex Knopps oversized restaurant we never needed. Take away that $3 million albatross and the course if profitable.

John O'Neill December 11, 2020 at 4:14 pm

@Bryan Meek — You are 1000% RIGHT on that restaurant…Incredibly bad idea. It proves some are very intelligent academically, but know virtually nothing about running a business. It’s really a poor version of a catering hall. Any well thought out restaurant would’ve been ultra successful in that spot. Shame on Alex Knopp and anyone else who signed on to that.

John Miller December 11, 2020 at 5:23 pm

I can’t believe that we are, once again, being subjected to and wasting more time on this elitist nonsense. Can any of our resident agronomists provide a total count of the trees at Oak Hills and compare it to the number of trees that have been removed over the years? We all know that trees help clean CO2 from the atmosphere but are any of these self proclaimed experts aware of the fact the grass also sequesters CO2 during the photosynthesis process (at Oak Hills the grass areas are known to as fairways). As far as the nonsense regarding tree canopies is concerned; Norwalk is a city. Cities have significant commercial zones. You don’t find tree canopies in commercial zones. Are there tree canopies over downtown Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven or Hartford? I think not. And then there’s the snide “If trees are making the golf course more difficult maybe the golfer needs lessons” remark. How arrogant, condescending and elitist. Most every fairway on Oak Hills is lined with trees on both sides and, trust me, I have hit many of them so, yes, they do make the course more challenging. And, finally, as pointed out by Mr. Dickens and Mr. Meek, golf courses do not damage the environment and Oak Hills is not subsidized by the taxpayers of Norwalk. Period.

James December 14, 2020 at 10:12 pm

Unless Oak Hills is managed organically, these are issues:

Pollution of ground water and surface water caused by the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other contaminants

Poor stream water quality due to erosion

Withdrawal of large quantities of water for irrigation

Degradation of natural landscape

Health hazards from chemical handling and application

Negative impacts of chemicals on wildlife

John ONeill December 15, 2020 at 7:34 pm

@James — You could just as well be talking about 1/2 the homes in West Norwalk…Still waiting for the group to support a ban on wood pellet stoves. Natural Gas is much better than the wood stoves..

James December 15, 2020 at 10:12 pm

@ John – correct hopefully homeowners understand the risks of fertilizer and pesticides also. Chemicals are widespread, not just golf courses.

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