The city of Chatfield replaced concrete on its downtown sidewalks this past week, as new trees will be planted in the grates where there used to be tall maples.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The city of Chatfield replaced concrete on its downtown sidewalks this past week, as new trees will be planted in the grates where there used to be tall maples. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The tree talk will have new urban roots in a different species as Chatfield changes the look of its Main Street by removing the trees and grated sidewalks.

"Those trees have been talked about for a number of years, actually," said Joel Young, Chatfield's city clerk. "Initially, the trees were planted in late 1991, and it was thought that 10 years would be an expected lifespan. Obviously, they did much more than that."

He said several years ago, the trees were going to come out, but a local resident offered his services to trim the trees, and that helped get more time out of them.

But now, the trees that grew outside of Chatfield's downtown businesses, have been removed following the decision to repair the unsafe, heaved-up sidewalks and replace the overgrown foliage with new, shorter-lived species.

Young pointed out the trees' longer-than-expected lifespan became a topic of discussion at city council meetings and among local business owners. The citizens of Chatfield contemplated what should become of them as the roots pushed sidewalk panels up and the branches reached toward second-story windows.

"This was probably discussed at the full council meetings a few times. Beyond that, though, it was discussed during committee meetings repeatedly, and also at Chatfield Commercial Club meetings," Young explained. "As for solutions, there are just so many years that you can get out of an urban tree, as the roots eventually cause issues with sidewalks and sewer pipes. As far as replacement goes, a number of alternatives were considered, including no trees at all, planters, bushes, et cetera."

The council came to a decision several months ago that there would be no salvaging the existing trees.

"The roots were heaving the sidewalks, causing safety issues, so they were taken out in February," Young said. "The city used Olson Tree Service to cut them down. The sidewalk panels nearest the trees had to be removed, the stumps and roots had to be removed, and frames and grates had to be installed."

Young said this project includes approximately $7,000 for the grates and frames, $2,250 for cutting down trees, $500 for new trees, $8,000 for sidewalk repair plus the cost of digging out the stumps and staff time.

"What appears to be a pretty simple job is actually a combination of several different activities," he added.

The crew of John Baker Concrete of Wykoff spent this past week completing the concrete removal and replacement in Chatfield. Electrical outlets, installed alongside the old trees, were taken out, but new ones will be put back, according to Young, just in time for the coming holiday season.

He commented on the prospect of planting new trees almost immediately - though a different species this time.

"Hopefully, they will be planted yet this fall - I'm not exactly sure what it will be, but likely a combination of gingko, Japanese lilac and oak," Young said. "Hopefully, too, they won't grow too quickly. In the end, though, a five- to ten-year time frame is expected."

The city clerk observed that while not everyone in Chatfield is enthused about the sidewalk tree replacement project, it is something that the city felt was important to complete.

"Well, on the one hand, we hope that people recognize that their city really does like to do what it can to help the community look good. On the other hand, it is important to know that these things do cost real money," Young concluded. "This is one of those things that is personal to people. Some folks think them to be a silly waste of money, as the trees do cause some damage and need to be replaced relatively quickly. Others, though, think they bring the place alive and make downtown look vibrant. What do you think?"