Please along read our follow-up story: County: the Playland Trees Cut Down Were Not Viable, New Trees Coming.
More than one dozen mature Oak trees along the main plaza of Rye Playland have been cut down and removed. The trees were cut in the last few weeks since the park ended its 94th season (and the first under the new Standard Amusements contract) in late September.
While the entire park is an active and inaccessible construction area, photos taken before and after show the main plaza from the entrance down to the concert area now devoid of trees. Mature oaks, likely as old as the park itself, towered above the plaza – higher than the Dragon Coaster – providing shade to Playland fun seekers. Oaks are considered a keystone species as mature Oaks support more diversity than any other native trees in our area.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy, bestselling author of The Nature of Oaks, happens to be – perhaps a bit ironically – a headline speaker at the Jay Heritage Center Sustainability Summit 2022 this Saturday, October 29th. Tallamy is one of the best known proponents of native plants and of the ecological value of Oak trees in particular.
Standard Amusements Wanted Trees Removed & the County Signed On
Sources tell MyRye.com Standard Amusements advanced the plan to remove all the trees saying many were hollowed out, damaged from storms and dangerous. Standard also argued newly planted trees would help return the park to its original historic design.
Standard brought the tree removal proposal to the County, agreeing to pay for the purported $1.8 million cost for removal, drainage and new landscaping. Subsequently Standard received approvals from the Westchester County Parks Board (a citizen led board appointed by the County Executive), the Westchester Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and the County Board of Legislators.
“We are proud to be working with Westchester County to not only make Playland as safe as possible, but to help beautify the grounds and return it to its original historic design,” said Standard Amusements spokesperson Chris Bastardi. “The new Swamp White Oak trees are better equipped to withstand storms and an environment that is contiguous to the water. The County is putting significant resources behind this restorative work and we look forward to visitors experiencing the park as it was intended.”
Not Everyone Agreed
County Legislator and Rye resident Catherine Parker voted against cutting down the Playland Oaks twice – once as a member of the Parks Board and again at the Board of Legislators. “I had suggested to everybody [on the Parks Board] that they go to Playland and take a look at the trees and this was back in the spring,” Parker told MyRye.com. “And I knew that [the trees] were all budding so I felt that the story that these were dead trees was not accurate.”
“[Standard Amusements] wanted the trees to all be uniform so that’s why they wanted them down. And I think that’s a travesty,” continued Parker. “I’ve told Nick Singer that, I’ve told other people at Standard considering the height of those trees, [they are] so necessary during floods. Trees like that really take a lot of stormwater. For purposes of flood mitigation, we should not remove those trees as well as they gave a tremendous amount of shade.”
Opposition also came from the County’s Historic Preservation and Advisory Committee (HPAC) but was not heeded. Playland is a National Historic Landmark. Back in 2018 when adding new members to HPAC, Rye guy and County Executive George Latimer, who lives adjacent to Playland, said “Westchester County is home to several properties of historical significance, and it is our job to ensure that these locations are protected. From Playland Amusement Park in Rye to the Tarrytown Lighthouse, and the Westchester County Center in between, Westchester County is a better place because of its heritage, and the historically significant buildings and properties owned by the County are integral to its character.”
“We are dealing with climate change,” said local resident and landscape designer Sue Drouin of Fairspring LLC. “As a landscape designer, there should be some mature elements and there should be some smaller elements,” she said explaining removal of the large trees lacked both ecological and design sense.
Drouin just assisted with the installation of rain garden at the Rye Art Center. “We are part of this greater ecosystem,” she continued. “To divorce ourselves of that connection is not a good thing right now. Think of the tens of thousands of visitors to the park and what they treasure about going there – that’s all been erased.”