Hanover crew chops down rope swing tree

by Devin Foxall | 7/13/01 5:00am

A Dartmouth tradition was sawed into easily disposable parts and trucked away yesterday morning.

The 100-foot tree that angled over the Connecticut river and was home to the rope swing is now a 15-inch stump.

The tree's termination comes after earlier warnings that the construction of a new rope swing would result in the tree's removal. Neighbors' complaints about late night noise, Hanover Police Cheif Nick Giaccone's witnessing of death-defying stunts and the fear that injury or death would lead the town open to liability lawsuits also factored into the decision.

A little after 10:30 a.m., a climber from the tree crew worked his way to the top of the tree, tied a rope around it and cut a 12 foot piece off.

"The first piece probably hit the water at 11 and the last piece was taken away around one," Michael Chase, Project Manager for the town of Hanover, said.

When the climber first started sawing, the wind picked up and the tree began to sway. "The sky went crazy for a minute when he cut that first piece off," Chase said.

He then worked his way down the tree, sawing off 10 to 12-foot sections.

Pieces were towed to the waste water treatment plant landing where they were removed from the river, loaded into a truck and taken away.

After the cutting, a Dartmouth student slowly paddled down from the Dartmouth Outing Club docks, took a large chunk of the tree and part of the rope swing, and paddled away.

Three hours after the cutting began, all that remained was a large pile of branches and a thick stump with a halo of sawdust.

A Tradition, A Liability

Many people saw the rope swing as a symbol of Dartmouth and as part of their happiest memories here. For others it was a favorite summer pastime.

Last summer the fate of the swing was a hotly contested issue between a town worried about lawsuits, and students worried about losing a special aspect of their college experience.

In the end, neighbor complaints and liability issues became overwhelming and the rope swing was cut down last September.

The tree was spared because of its beauty and because its root network was holding together part of the river bank.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin cautioned last summer that if a new rope swing were put up it would likely lead to the removal of the tree.

By senior week this year a new rope swing had been put up, bringing with it all the old problems.

Griffin said she realized that "obviously removing the rope swing isn't working, somebody is just going to reinstall it. The tree has to come down."

Past and current concerns led Griffin, on July 3rd. to order the tree to be cut down.

"The police chief observed a young guy shimmying up to the very end of the tree, standing up and jumping off," she said. "That was just one more cause for me to lose sleep, worrying about someone being serious injured or killed."

Griffin said other people have told her about witnessing events like this as well.

The town would be liable for any injuries or death caused by the rope swing because the rope swing is on town property and the town knows about it, she said.

Insurance carriers told Griffin that they "wouldn't provide coverage if someone were killed or injured.

"This kind of recreation would not be covered because it wasn't being provided in a safe manner," according to Griffin.

When the rope swing was cut down last year, the town limited the legal access to the trail to between sunrise and sunset.

They also put up a temporary fence around the tree and a sign warning against putting up a new rope swing.

When a new rope swing was put up this summer, neighbors again began complaining about the excessive noise late at night.

"To the neighbors credit they've tried to live with this, but I think that the notion of being awakened in the middle of the night, night after night -- it just wasn't fair to continue to put them through that," Griffin explained.

After the noise complaints, police began issuing citations to people by the swing after sunset. Witnessing someone jumping from the top of the tree was the final nail in the old tree's coffin.

"It became clear to me that it wasn't going to work for us to try and reach an agreement with the user groups, that they needed to respect the restrictions on the property and that the only way to address the situation was to remove the temptation," Griffin said.

"It's sad because it was a beautiful old tree."

About 15 minutes after the tree crew left, two girls and a guy from a local camp walked down the path to visit the rope swing.

A Dartmouth student was running his hands on the stump, feeling the warm sawdust already beginning to cool.

"No! The tree is gone!" one of the girls said.

Staring out into the water, the other girl said, "It was here yesterday, I showed it to my friend."

It was quiet for a moment, and then the first girl said quietly, "That was a great tree."