The Dying Pines

Driving the back roads of New Marlborough is a favorite past time for many of our residents. When I go out, it is with camera in hand and an eye out for wildlife. Last January, as I have for years and in every season, I dropped down to York Lake to savor a moment of winter stillness. I was greeted instead by the deafening roar of logging equipment in full cry: Log trucks, chippers, and chain saws were chugging and puffing smoke. More shocking still was what I saw: The once stately copses of red pines on either side of the beach had been toppled. The tree-shaded areas equipped with barbecue grills and stone fire pits were now bare. It was only last fall that I walked under those trees and took photographs; little did I know it would be the last time.

Saddened and distressed, I was determined to find out why loggers were permitted to wreak such havoc on the beauty of York Lake. Since no part of the Sandisfield State Forest is under the jurisdiction of New Marlborough (or Sandisfield for that matter), I consulted the website of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state agency that runs the York Lake recreation area. There, the reason for the devastation became immediately clear:

“… all red pine, the website stated, “is severely infested with red pine scale and expected to be dead within a year. The alternative of leaving the trees would result in an unacceptable public safety situation which would probably require closing the day use areas.” Red pine scale is a tiny insect that deposits its eggs under the bark of red pines. The inner bark is then eaten by the larvae as they hatch, leading to the death of the tree in about five years.

According to Conrad Ohman, Management Forester for Southern Berkshire County, notices went out with dates posted, and a public information day took place at the lake prior to the harvesting. Some 180 trees were cut down around the lake. In part to pay for their removal, nearly 1,700 trees, some of them infested red pine, others non-native Norway spruce, white pine and oak, were taken from two lots on East Hill. The Town of New Marlborough will receive $2,800, or 8 percent of the $35,000 being paid to the state by the loggers.

Over seventy-five years ago, after the excavation of York Lake, dug out by hand by the men of the CCC Camp (Civilian Conservation Corps), many of the towering pines were saplings. While it is sad that they were dying and had to come down, the logging does result in large open spaces that create more sunny areas around the beach. The removal of the Norway spruce plantation on East Hill restores the area to native trees and promotes the growth of young trees. Mr. Ohman said that, “this vegetation stage of brush, seedling, and sapling size trees is greatly under represented in our forests and serves as habitat for a great variety of birds and other wildlife.”

Many folks have fond memories from the early sixties, like mine, of fun filled summer days in New Marlborough, unencumbered by high tech distractions and busy roadways - just quiet nature. For me, the lake is one such place. At least three or four days a week, my family and any neighborhood children around, would all pile into the car and head for the lake. There would be little blanket room left on the beach if you did not arrive early. Loaded down with picnic baskets and coolers, everyone gathered to spend the day. We all knew each other, and the children would go off on explorations while the adults would pull tables together under the tall pines and set up for lunch. That grove of trees offered cooling shade from the hot sun, a place to play, eat, and rest, before returning to swim or hunt polliwogs.

The lake is a special treasure in our town, and walking out to the point to sit on the big rock with the strength of those magnificent trees surrounding you was very peaceful. Changes are inevitable, and we will become accustomed to the new look of the lake, but some of us will never forget the way it used to be.

Previously published May, 2008
New Marlborough 5 Village News.
All Photographs ©2007 Janice Stiles-Boults
"Left Behind at the Lake"
Tells the sad tale indeed.


Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

We are dealing with devastation from the wooly adelgid here, and watching the trees die on the ridges is heartbreaking. I can hardly bear going up to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A line-dance of dying trees.

Pauline said...

How sad and how devastated the lakeside looks! It's long been a favorite swimming and picnic spot - will replanting take place, do you know?