Compromise on Cypress Trees

Despite road changes designed to accommodate new development, Old Crain Highway near Upper Marlboro will still have bald cypress trees lining both sides--thanks largely to Rose Hoffman.

Her one-woman crusade to save the trees has brought about a middle-of-the-road outcome: The road will be shifted to one side to accommodate new paved shoulders. The old trees there will be chopped down, but they will be replaced by new ones along the slightly realigned route.

Yet, Hoffman, 76, who came to admire the trees though she lives several miles away, isn't celebrating. She wanted all the trees kept, even the topped-off ones on the south side due for replacement.

The replacements, which will be eight to 10 feet tall and 25 feet apart, won't be "full trees," she said, contributing to the canopy that trees on both sides now form. At least not for years.

The 100 trees, which aren't native to the area, were transplanted from St. Mary's County to the road 75 years ago by the Forest Garden Club, a group of Upper Marlboro society women. But half of the trees have been cut down to the height of power lines that run along the roadside.

Over the years, they also had become overgrown with vines, especially poison ivy. Then, after a subdivision known as Meadowgate Estates was approved, the county public works department decided the road had to be widened and the trees taken down.

For five years, Hoffman wrote to officials, to no avail. Finally last summer, after her story appeared in The Washington Post, the County Council declared Old Crain Highway a scenic road entitled to some protection. But not necessarily to retroactive protection.

Nonetheless, an arborist was called in, and meetings were held. The trees were declared salvageable but unmovable except at $5,000 to $6,000 each. Developer Michael T. Rose agreed instead to replace them for $400 to $500 apiece.

"It is recommended that . . . the scenic road be recreated," said a final report from the county planning agency last month, with all the new bald cypress trees planted six feet from the new curb and spaced just as the old ones were.

"The story is that one citizen had a major impact," said S. Robert Kaufman, a vice president of the development company. "Because she spoke up, we are at least going to recreate what was there before. That is different from what was going to happen."

County Council member M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro), who introduced the scenic road resolution, also was pleased. "It certainly sounds like the best we can do," he said. "I think it wouldn't have happened if we hadn't declared it a scenic road."

Also as a result of the council's action in declaring Old Crain Highway a "scenic/historic road," another subdivision across the way will preserve an open field, with one stipulation: The developer must plant four bald cypress trees there, 50 feet apart.

-- Eugene L. Meyer

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CAPTION: Rose Hoffman, 76, led a one-woman crusade to save the bald cypress trees along Old Crain Highway. The trees will be cut down to widen the road, but the developer has agreed to plant new ones.