Members of the Parsons family and Kennebunk municipal government met April 11 for a site walk and more discussion about the future of the trees that line Parson Beach Road. ABIGAIL WORTHING/Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier

KENNEBUNK — The fate of the Parsons Beach Road trees remains uncertain as meetings continue between the town and the Parsons family.
The road is lined with 62 Norway maple trees that create a canopy over the road, a longtime community favorite and point of pride for the Parsons family. While the Parsons Beach Association privately owns the beach, an organization made up of 60 members of the Parsons family, the road leading to the beach is a right-of-way and is owned and maintained by the town of Kennebunk.

On April 1, many of the Norway maples were scheduled for removal. They were to be replaced with swamp white oak. An outcry from the Parsons family and a portion of the community led to a delay in the project.
Following a tumultuous meeting on April 2, members of the Parsons family and Kennebunk municipal government met on April 9 at 3 p.m. to further discuss the future of the trees that line Parsons Beach Road.
Town Manager Mike Pardue facilitated the meeting. He began by stating that the intent of the meeting was to get everything out in the open in a productive way.
Pardue was joined in this sentiment by Selectman L. Blake Baldwin, who served as the selectman liaison to the Tree Committee.
In his opening remarks, Baldwin stressed to the members of the Parsons family that the decision to remove the trees did not come lightly.

“We have a moral obligation to the future, and to pay it forward to future generations,” Baldwin said. “We’ve tried very hard to do the right thing by your family. No one woke up and decided they wanted to cut down some trees, that’s the last thing we want to do.”

Tree Committee member Wayne Cutting detailed the damage observed by the committee; describing instances of decay and disease, as well as injuries caused by humans, such as plow truck nicks. During the meeting, Cutting said that while trees that are struggling to survive can sometimes be cabled together for support, but the trees on either side of the road have become too damaged to be able to support each other.

Cutting reiterated, as he had in the Tree Committee meeting on April 4, that with the environment on Parsons Beach Road, only certain species of trees could be considered in order to ensure they would thrive.

Road and sea salt are destructive to many types of trees, he said, but the strong disposition of the swamp white oak led the Tree Committee to conclude that would be the best option.

The horse paddock located on the Parsons’ property caused other species of trees to be left out of consideration as well, as the toxicity of the leaves can harm the horses.

Replacing the trees with the current species, the Norway maple, was also ruled out. The Norway maple is considered an invasive species and are no longer available for purchase in the state of Maine.
“It’s not an exact science, unfortunately trees can’t talk to you and tell you what they need,” Cutting said during the meeting. “We think these are the best option for the area.”

Michael Greeley was the chosen spokesperson of the Parsons Beach Association, the son-in-law of Debbie Parsons Burns. In his remarks, he thanked the members of the Tree Committee, saying that the family had “heartfelt appreciation” for their diligence in trying to find a solution.

“It seems that the consensus is that we all want a canopy,” Greeley said. “This just feels so abrupt for all of us.”

Greeley went on to request transparency moving forward with the project. While Kennebunk officials met with Parsons family member Larry Dwight last fall as the point-of-contact for the tree replacement initiative prior to his death in October, the information was not shared with the family, and therefore the rest of the family was unaware of the plan until receiving a courtesy email on March 29.

“We recognize work needs to be done,” Greeley said. “We want to go back to a harmonious agreement. After all, this is probably the most Instagramed venue in town.”

He went on to propose a foundation to be created by the Parsons Beach Association, which, if formed, would pledge to contribute $25,000 to the replacing and maintenance of new trees. The foundation would allow the family to remain involved in the future of the trees, and include a younger generation of the Parsons family.

“We have kids in our family who are calling us saying, ‘save the trees!’ They are very important to our family,” said Julia Burns Riley, member of the Parsons family, during the April 9 meeting.

The subject of replacing the trees with current Norway maple was broached again during the meeting, however it was again stressed by Tree Committee member Paul Cotton that as the tree is invasive, it would be illegal to put the trees in.

According to Town Engineer Chris Osterreider, doing so against federal regulations could result in the town being disqualified from receiving grants in the future.

The meeting ended with an invitation for Pardue to attend the next meeting of the Parsons Beach Association, and an agreement between parties for further collaboration on the project.

The majority of the group reconvened on Thursday April 11 for a meeting of the two parties with Parsons Family lawyer, Paul Driscoll of Norman, Hanson, and DeTroy in Portland.

The tete-a-tete included a site walk of the tree line, during which Tree Committee member Bob Palmer walked the group of 11 down the road, stopping tree by tree pointing out where there were problems and signs of decay.

Palmer pointed out limbs that were in danger of breaking and painted a picture of both best, and worst, case scenarios for falling trees.

“Now, if a limb falls right now, it probably wouldn’t hit anything,” Palmer said, gesturing to the empty street, with only the occasional car traversing the span of road. “But picture it’s a great beach day, and there are 500 people on the beach. Then there’s a bad thunderstorm, and all of those people on the beach are going to try to get out. If the wind picked up, a branch could fall, and it would have a good chance of hitting someone.”

From the two meetings, an agreement was reached by the town and the Parsons family that another tree study would be done at a currently-unscheduled time in the near future prior to the removal of any trees, as the original study is now nine years old.

“We don’t cut trees down without good reason,” Palmer said during the walk. “Honestly I’m surprised some of these are still standing, considering what they looked like seven years ago.”

— Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

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