Lanesborough Arboretum gives shade on a summer day

I met Jim Neureuther and his wife Donna at the recent Dutch Elm Tree Disease injection of what is probably Massachusetts’ Grand Champion (largest) Elm, a venerable tree growing on Summer Street right off of Route 7 in Lanesborough. 

While we were talking about the local trees in general, they invited me to view the town’s Arboretum at Laston Memorial Park, just up past The Old Forge on Route 7. I met them there a week later and was surprised at what a small committee in a small town could manage in such a short time.

“The Arboretum at Laston officially started in 2015,” Neureuther explained, “although trees were planted as early as 2011.” Back then, the arboretum had sugar and red maples along with two varieties of Dutch Elm Disease-resistant elms, but the founders had not yet stated a clear intention to create a broad tree diversity. 

“The Lanesborough Tree and Forest Committee decided in 2015, as part of the town’s 250th anniversary, to plant as many trees as donations allowed,” Neureuther said. 

At that time, they made the decision to plant a wide variety of trees, he said, even if the trees were not all non-native species. In the future, they will likely choose native trees over non-native.

As of now, the arboretum has 25 different species or varieties, including red, paperbark and sugar maple, dawn redwood, tulip tree, flowering crabapple, ivory silk tree lilac, linden, black gum, northern catalpa, American Elm, honey locust, yellowwood, ginkgo, serviceberry (shad), Kousa dogwood, sycamore, red horse chestnut, pin oak, American beech, river birch, tri-color beech, and tamarack (American larch). 

Woodland species also border the arboretum experience, and the arboretum could label an assortment of these natives, identifying the species in time.

Neureuther shares the work of caring for the trees with a local group of volunteers.

“The current members of the Tree Committee are George Kellar and Eammon Coughlin,” he said. “Paula Byrdy (emeritus member) left the committee last year following her move to Kimball Farms.” 

We keep a short list of desirable trees for future additions to the Arboretum,” he said, “but mainly Donna and I travel the nearby nurseries each spring to see if we find any interesting trees to plant.” 

He and Donna carry on the bulk of the work, he said; she is a non-member but official Friend of the Tree Committee. 

Health issues and a new baby have limited the time the other members can spend, he said. They have two vacancies on the committee right now.

Overall, the Tree Committee averages about 250 to 300 hours of volunteer effort taking care of trees at Laston, the Lanesborough School, and Memorial Park (near the police station). 

As we came near the end of the experience, we were awarded a surprise, confirming that the present-day park was once The Sunset Drive-In. One of the original two-car loudspeakers has been saved and sits along the path not far from a small picnic grove. And for anyone who remembers the drive-in, one of the buildings left in the ball field is the projection booth and refreshment stand. A short path leads to a final surprise, the Talcott Cemetery established in 1773 that includes Revolutionary War Veterans and other early residents of the village.

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