Ana Cairns of Falmouth and her dog Phoebe wrap up a hike at Pine Grove Preserve Tuesday morning. Cairns said the dangling dead branches and the tree limbs littering the trail are a reason for safety concerns and she supports a town plan to manage the forest. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Falmouth resident Ana Cairns, who has frequented the Pine Grove Preserve in town for nearly 20 years, said the popular 29-acre site’s fallen trees and branches are worrisome.

If someone on the trail deep into the preserve gets hurt by a falling branch or trips over deadwood on the ground, they could be in trouble, she said.

Many of the dead trees are still standing. Officials say that the majority of trees to be cut down are already dead. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

“The trail goes pretty far back so I do get concerns,” Cairns said after finishing a hike on the trail Tuesday.

The town wants a forest management plan for the preserve in light of safety concerns. Potentially dangerous trees would be removed, canopies would be manicured and invasive plants would be removed.

A plan was introduced to the Falmouth Town Council Monday and will be voted on at its next meeting.  Town Manager Nathan Poore said the town plans to appropriate $50,000 for the project but is not sure of the final costs.


Maintenance would keep visitors to the preserve safe from falling trees and branches, which is a natural progression of the forest, according to a report from Town Forester Paul Larrivee.

“While mother nature is doing her thing, the concern is for the people using those trails,” Larrivee said.

One of many dead trees along the Pine Grove trail. Dead branches that are broken and hanging overhead, like those pictured above, are referred to as “widowmakers, which can fall from winds. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

A sign at the preserve’s trailhead warns visitors about the condition of the forest. Within a minute or two of walking on the trail, dead standing trees become apparent, as well as a number of fallen trees. Overhead at numerous points on the trail are dead and broken branches, what foresters refer to as “widowmakers.”

As of now, visitors think “it is worth the risk to enter the property,” Open Space Manager Amanda Stearns said at Monday’s meeting.

“I appreciate public desire to use the site, but it makes me nervous. When I look up at the tree canopy or lack of, the site is certainly one of the more unique, in a bad way, forest stands I’ve walked,” Stearns said.

If the management plan is approved, residents can expect to see dead and dying red and white pines marked for removal before their actual removal in late fall. At least 50% of the trees to be marked are already dead, officials said. Invasive species like wild rose and buckthorn also will be targeted because they can overtake areas where trees are removed.


The sign at the Pine Grove Preserve trailhead. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

The preserve will be closed to the public during the tree and invasive species removal.

Cairns says she is “totally in support of plans” to manage the preserve.

“It’s a beautiful forest and because it is so high it doesn’t get muddy like other trails in town, but that also means wind takes down a lot of branches and trees.”

All councilors who spoke Monday were in favor of the plan.

“I would never cut down trees, but I prioritize public safety,” Council Chairperson Amy Kuhn said.

In his report, Larrivee said the preserve will have a more mixed forest as it transitions.

“In areas where the pine has fallen from the stands, hardwood species now dominate the understory. This will likely continue,” he said.

Over time, birch, maple and hardwoods will take over, he said.


A dead tree leans against another tree above the Pine Grove Preserve trail. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

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