Merchants field queries over missing courthouse trees
Main Street merchants are used to answering tourists’ questions: how do you get to the parkway, what’s the best place for dinner, and where are the public restrooms? But lately, Waynesville’s downtown store keepers have also become purveyors of news.
At Affairs of the Heart gift shop, people rankled by the cutting of stately sugar maples around the historic courthouse have wandered in wanting to know why the trees were felled. Roseann Lowe could only sympathize.
“It’s sad. It’s terrible,” Lowe said of the county’s decision to axe the aged and diseased trees.
The now-barren lawn of the historic courthouse flanking Main Street is a shock to second-home owners and repeat tourists steadily trickling back to town with the arrival of spring. By default, Main Street merchants have become the first source perplexed and irked visitors go to for answers.
Travis Spencer, a 35-year-old employee at Mast General Store, said he has heard several complaints from shoppers.
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“Nobody has come by here and said anything positive,” Spencer said.
A group of teenagers had come to town specifically to see the trees and were shocked when they arrived, Spencer said.
“They were pretty disappointed that the trees were gone,” Spencer said, adding that he, too, was sad to see the trees go. “They were beautiful.”
After an arborist reported that the 11 sugar maple trees on the courthouse lawn were diseased and posed a liability if not cut down, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners voted to do just that. The sugar maples were promptly chopped down during the course of the last several weeks.
While the risk of falling limbs was proffered as the big reason for cutting the trees, county commissioners also thought it would simply look better without the trees. The trees blocked views of the grand, historic courthouse and kept grass from growing, commissioners noted consistently when discussing the issue during public meetings.
Humans and animals alike used the trees for shade during festivals and street dances when the weather was particularly hot. Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation set up shop under the trees during events to show off animals available for adoption. Parents and children would picnic in the shade of the trees.
“It’s our green space on Main Street,” said Buffy Phillips, head of the Downtown Waynesville Association.
Although the street is lined with smaller trees, the large canopy spanning the courthouse lawn beckoned as an inviting gathering spot. The trees also added a splash of color to the gray stone facades of the historic courthouse and justice center.
“They were gorgeous, especially in the fall,” said Carol Linkers, an employee at Chocolate Bear. Now, “It’s not pretty.” Linkers said she has not heard anyone speak favorably of the new look.
The owner of Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery, Walt Cook, was sad to see the trees go.
“I have kind of mixed emotions because they were beautiful, and they were there so long,” Cook said. But on the positive side, “It made the courthouse look more outstanding, more awesome.”
Some sympathized with the county’s rationale for cutting the trees.
“You don’t want somebody getting hurt or killed,” said Linda Fuqua, owner of Cheddar Box Country Store.
But Ron Muse, a builder who was sad to the see trees go, has examined the stumps left behind and there’s no sign of the trunks themselves being rotten or diseased, begging the question whether at least some of the trees couldn’t have been saved.
“They really handled that badly,” Muse said. “I haven’t seen one soul that wanted them down except the commissioners.”
If the county wanted to take down the trees, it at least needed a landscape plan in place first, Muse said.
“The bus has already left the station with no clue where it’s going,” he said.