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Friends fight for 'natural state' at Robinson State Park

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM The Friends of Robinson State Park (FORSP) have been fighting an uphill battle for over a year.

Their efforts to "stop the state-proposed timber sale and leave this rare forest land in its natural state" have been met with opposition and caused a strained relationship with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

In May of this year DCR removed about 105 red pines from the North Street park entrance citing them as dead or dying and a hazard to park visitors.

Lucy Gionfriddo, member of FORSP said her organization supports the removal of the dead or dying red pines but not any additional "healthy hardwoods." She added that initially they were told only the "sick and dying" trees would be marked for removal but 2,400 healthy trees were also marked to make the job more economically viable for the logger.

"It's difficult to believe everything we've been told," she said. "We could sense there wasn't a sincere move on the part of DCR as to why it needed to be logged because the reason kept changing."

However Rick Sullivan, commissioner of DCR said, "At no time was DCR making any significant money on this. This was not a significant dollar operation for the Commonwealth. Now it's just going to be an expense."

Sullivan added that the initial proposals for the hardwoods were to "offset the costs of cutting" the dead red pines. However, he added that "most of the areas that the Friends were concerned about were removed from the cutting plan," such as those "near vernal pools."

He attributed the new expense to the fact that at one time the "red pines had some value" but they "do not now."

Gionfriddo said FORSP have been working with DCR to separate the proposal for the removal of the dead or dying red pines from the proposal of the healthy hardwoods.

Earlier this month, Gionfriddo said she met with a DCR representative and Chief Forester Jim DiMaio at Robinson State Park to discuss the condition and future of the park.

"We spent some time with the Friends and we would like to work very cooperatively with them and seek some common ground," he said.

When asked about the number of trees, healthy or otherwise, that would be removed he said he had no comment at this time.

According to information released by FORSP, their organization condemns the "removal of 360,000 board feet of marketable wood." When asked about this statement Sullivan said, "You won't see any marketable board feet coming out of the park unless it's a safety issue."

He added that under his instruction foresters have been returning to Robinson State Park in an effort to reduce the cutting plans even more. Sullivan said the cutting plan has been reduced by "well over 61 percent" from initial estimates.

Gionfriddo said the FORSP has also been researching the 2004 decision by the Forest Stewardship Council making Massachusetts "Green Certified." She added, however, that the protection was granted to parks "only within Route 128 in Boston."

Gionfriddo said 80 percent of all other public lands parks or forests would have scheduled harvesting and only 20 percent of the land would be declared as reserves.

She added that she would just like to "have equity" between eastern and western Massachusetts.

The FORSP considers Robinson State Park an "urban park" and "expect the same protection [as] other urban parks outside of Route 128." They are also calling for parks to be "separated from forests into a category of their own and taken out of green certification."

However Sullivan said urban parks are only classified as those in the Boston area with all others deemed as state parks. He added that he agrees with FORSP as to why they do not wish to be classified as a forest, "where there is a larger cutting plan that takes place on a yearly basis."

Overall, however, Sullivan said he is "optimistic" that the DCR and the Friends will come to a compromise. He added that he is "committed to not moving forward with cutting until the Friends have seen everything."