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Trees a growing issue on High Street

MORGANTOWN — There are large and growing problems taking root in downtown Morgantown. 

More accurately, they were planted there. 

Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli said the trees incorporated as part of the High Street streetscape project completed in 2013 were “a very poor choice” and are increasingly becoming an issue. 

Morgantown Urban Landscape Director Marchetta Maupin said the trees in question are Ulmus parvifolia ‘Frontier’ or Frontier Elm.

“They grow very large. They grow very fast. If you’ve walked up High Street, I’m sure you’ve noticed the root system has pushed the concrete slabs of the sidewalk up and have grown too high, essentially causing some trip hazards on the sidewalks,” Muzzarelli said. 

Muzzarelli said small curbs were built around the tree pits to keep soil and mulch in place and prevent pedestrians from getting tripped up on exposed roots. However, she added, putting raised curbs in the sidewalk is also a trip hazard.  

Morgantown City Council recently approved a $68,593 bid from Anderson Excavating to remove the concrete around seven trees, extend those raised boxes out to the edge of the sidewalk and place fencing flush with the boxes along three sides.

While there’s already fencing around some of the trees downtown, it’s situated inside the raised concrete box, meaning the box itself remains a hazard for pedestrians, particularly those with mobility and/or vision issues. 

Muzzarelli conceded that many people prefer the tree pits to be flush with the sidewalk and include the Morgantown-branded metal grates, but it’s not possible with this species of tree. 

“At some point, along the entirety of High Street the very large trees will need to come out. In order to do that, we’ll have to take out, likely, part of the road and part of the sidewalk beyond the tree pit to get to the root system,” Muzzarelli said. “So, it’s a much-more-expensive and much-more-invasive project. This is a kind of in-the-middle step to address the potential for people tripping and getting injured on these.” 

Once streetscape projects on Pleasant, Walnut and, potentially, Chestnut streets are complete, Muzzarelli said, “I imagine High will be reconsidered for a streetscape.” 

Maupin said tree species selections are made with the recommendation of the Morgantown Tree Board. 

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