New trees arrive at Burlington’s City Hall Park as redesign nears completion

An intermittent and slow parade of trees chugged at tractor-speed down St. Paul Street in Burlington on Monday, destined for Burlington’s City Hall Park.

By late afternoon, wide holes along the southern (Main Street-facing) end of the park held red maple, thornless honey locust, London plane, swamp white oak and elm.

The long-anticipated re-greening of the park by healthy, replacement trees signals the final stretch of a two-season rehabilitation project that city officials say will be completed in October.

Opposition to the removal of mature trees — most of which were in declining health — had become a months-long rallying cry in 2019 when arborists unveiled plans to rejuvenate this part of the urban canopy.

A compromise preserved some of the old, still-viable favorites.

The removal of fragile and failing trees allowed the city to restore poor, compacted soil and remedy erosion from rain — a sound, long-term investment in the park’s future, said City Arborist V.J. Comai.

The pace of his botanical upgrades has quickened as other crews wind up on installation of underground utilities, pathways, lighting and a water-jet equipped splash park.

Growth in the park’s lower canopy, too

In addition to 20 replacement trees, city crews are hustling to plant 328 shrubs, Comai said.

Thousands of new ornamental perennial plants and grasses have already been planted, many of them in newly created, stormwater-absorbing rain gardens, he added.

Dozens of perennial plants line an excavated rain garden in Burlington's City Hall Park on Aug. 3, 2020. This and other new rain gardens in the park are designed to remedy a decades-long problem of soil erosion due to fast rain runoff. City officials predict the park will re-open to the public in October.

Other enhancements to City Hall Park will include:

  • A small, outdoor performance space.
  • A “Portland Loo” public toilet.
  • Movable furniture.
  • Improved irrigation, electrical connections and irrigation.
  • Public art.

Progress toward completion has fluctuated wildly.

Momentum on the project hummed into high gear last year, with mild October and November extending the construction season, said Diana Wood, a spokeswoman for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront.

There was even talk of winding up the rehab project by late summer 2020.

The arrival of COVID-19 early this year delayed the start of construction by six weeks: from March 23 to May 11 — and the timeline stretched into early fall.

Constraints on the use of shared equipment, coupled with distancing on the job, continues to slow things down, Wood said, “but we’re on track to be completed in October.”

But, she added, it’s still too early to set a firm date for a grand reopening.

Matt Fredenburgh, a Burlington arborist technician, prepares to transplant one of more than a dozen new trees that were delivered to City Hall Park on Aug. 3, 2020.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a subscription to the Burlington Free Press.