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Newly planted shrubs on state Route 73 field upsets some residents

August 3, 2012

A natural snow fence, consisting of three rows of shrubs in a field next to state Route 73 in between Keene and Keene Valley, has caused a stir among some residents.

The state Department of Transportation planted the shrubs recently, part of a bridge replacement project near the intersection of state routes 73 and 9N. David Winchell, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 5 office in Ray Brook, said DOT was issued a Temporary Revocable Permit "for them to plant native bushes on forest preserve lands west of Route 73 near the bottom of Spruce Hill.

"The permit application indicated that the purpose of the planting was to create a natural snow fence and reduce snow drifts on Route 73 and Route 9N to improve motorist safety," Winchell said in an email.

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The state Department of Transportation planted three rows of shrubs in a field next to state Route 73 in between Keene and Keene Valley. They were intended as a natural snow fence, but some local residents they don’t belong there.

Keene Valley resident Naj Wikoff isn't happy about it.

"In terms of one of the most photographed vistas in our community, these rows of trees, put in in such a mechanical fashion, are jarring in terms of the overall aesthetic experience," Wikoff told the Enterprise. "And, of course, they're only going to grow bigger. How big? No one knows."

The field is popular among artists and photographers for its scenic views of the High Peaks, visible in part because the DEC used to mow the field. Wikoff said the DEC and other agencies should have sought public input before letting DOT plant the shrubs.

"Nobody paid close attention to what was being asked or what it would look like, or that it's in front of this major vista," he said. "I suspect it might have been presented as something minor."

Emails sent to the media, state and local officials, and other residents of Keene and Keene Valley show that several other community members shared Wikoff's concerns about the shrubs.

DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen said the shrubs were planted as a safety measure.

"It helps with blowing and drifting snow; that's kind of a big concern for us," she said. "Once we get snow plowed off a road, there are locations where the snow gets blown back on. Instead of putting up an actual fence, some trees and shrubs are good at stopping the snow. It doesn't have a negative aesthetic impact on the community, and it cuts down on the drifting."

Breen said a layer of mulch was put down along the plant beds to deter weeds or other small trees from growing and blocking the view. She said she's not sure how tall the shrubs will grow, although she's been assured they won't impede views of the High Peaks.

"I can't state that as fact; it could be subject to opinion," Breen said. "That's what I'm told: The height, when mature, will have little impact on overall views across the field."

Breen said the natural snow fence could mean less plowing and salting this coming winter.

Wikoff said snow drifts at Marcy Field and the Cascade Lakes are a far bigger concern, safety-wise.

Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said his big concern is that the field hasn't been mowed since November 2008. He said if left uncut, that will pose a bigger threat to views of the High Peaks than the shrubs.

"There was a handshake deal (with DEC) where they'll keep the field mowed," Ferebee said. "For a number of years it was mowed privately, for the hay, but apparently that person quit mowing or they put a stop to it."

Ferebee said he's also worried about the field's old barn, which he said has become an iconic structure. He said it's in a state of disrepair and should be fixed.

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@



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