Pratt Field Renovations: The Root of the Problem
Issue   |   Wed, 09/19/2012 - 00:06
Photo by Peter Mack ’15
After protest from town residents, the College has decided to save and relocate a historic Camperdown Elm that would have been destroyed by the Pratt Field rennovations.

With all construction comes destruction, and this is exactly what worries members of the Amherst community about the upcoming Pratt Field renovations.

Scheduled to start in October, the Pratt Field project “reconfigures and reorients the track and football field such that the field is moved off its current axis and the bleachers are located outside of the track,” said Jim Brassord, Director of Facilities and Associate Treasurer for Campus Services.

However, what raised concerns about the plan was the location of a Camperdown Elm — a historic and meaningful tree — whose existence was threatened by the new developments.

“This tree traces it lineage to Dundee, Scotland, to an estate that was named Camperdown by Adam Duncan, the admiral who won a victory at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797,” Professor Rebecca Sinos said.

After Duncan’s son inherited the estate, his head forester, David Taylor, found a peculiar seedling from a Wych Elm that did not grow as anticipated. The tree had “a contorted pattern and grew close to the ground,” according to Sinos’ description of the story. Taylor, creatively constructed the first Camperdown Elm by grafting the tree onto the trunk of a normal Wych Elm.
The age of the Camperdown Elm on Pratt Field is unknown. However, when Sinos asked John Bater, a former Amherst College landscape technician about the tree, “he said that when he arrived in 1970 the tree was already mature.”

But regardless of its age and its unique creation, what makes this tree so popular among Amherst residents, and especially to Sinos, is its extraordinary beauty.

“This kind of elm has a charm unlike any other, in its small scale and its weeping habit. And our tree is a particularly beautiful specimen of a Camperdown Elm,” Sinos said.

In fact, this concern is not limited to the Amherst community. Michael Marcotrigiano, Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the Botanic Garden at Smith College, wrote to the College administration last summer about the value of this tree.

“Large historic specimens, like old restored buildings, are a sign that there is institutional respect for the past. One can see many a campus where there is no historic appeal and the landscape specimens are young, boring and the landscape equivalent of parsley around a roasted pig. These campuses are not campuses steeping in tradition or ones with a liberal arts approach to their built environment,” Marcotrigiano said in the letter.

Hope Crolius, the Chair of the Amherst Public Tree Committee — a group of six individuals who promote the preservation and conservation of trees in the town of Amherst — spoke about the Camperdown Elm, which she described as “such a prominent tree at an educational institute.” Like Sinos and Marcotrigiano, Crolius saw the Elm as a representation of our generation of life at Amherst College.

“[Students] maybe had their first kiss underneath that tree or watched the game from there or debated a really important topic of the day,” Crolius said. “[The Elm has symbolic value that is] so tied in with human beings and what we have done.”
Hence, the preservation of the Camperdown Elm is not just for the life of the tree itself, but for what it represents —respect for the past.

After concerns about the construction, as well as contemplating opinions from esteemed arborists and tree relocation companies, the Senior Administration of Amherst College has decided to take necessary steps to protect the tree.
The Barlett Tree Company has been hired to relocate the Camperdown Elm this coming spring. The plans for the tree, according to Brassord, include promoting root growth so that the tree will be ready to withstand the stresses associated with the root structure excavation and relocation. With state-of-the-art excavation equipment and a large crane, the tree will be swung to a proper location — one that is situated with the new field and bleacher grandstand.

“[The Camperdown Elm will be] a more prominent feature of Pratt Field,” Brassord said.

However, the preservation of the tree isn’t a walk in the park — it comes with a price.

“But given the significance of this specimen tree, the College feels that a stewardship relocation strategy is important,” Brassord said. “The major donor for the project concurs and has graciously agreed to fund this work.”

Although plans have been instigated to safely relocate the tree, some still wonder why the College took so long.

“While I am pleased that the College will try to relocate this tree rather than simply destroying it, I am disappointed that the College came so late to realize the tree’s importance, too late to take it into account when drawing up designs for the new field,” Sinos said. “[I] will be keeping [my] fingers crossed that our tree will survive this operation.”

However, most are pleased with the response of the College.

“[There are] no guarantees when you move trees, especially with [the] size [of the Camperwood],” Crolius said. “The important thing is that the College [recognized] its heritage and how important trees are for human well-being.”