Ridgefield might have the oldest Norway maple in CT. This plan preserves it.

RIDGEFIELD — A Norway maple tree believed to be centuries old is an iconic part of the landscape at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists.

Pulling into the guild’s parking lot at the end of Halpin Lane, one might look in awe at its massive trunk and expansive network of branches.

The tree is one of the oldest and largest Norway maple trees in the state, according to Ryan O’Leary, a commercial arborist representative at Bartlett Tree Experts in Stamford.

Efforts will be taken to preserve the tree once the town begins construction on a new parking lot at Halpin, which will serve the guild, the Ridgefield Theater Barn and the Ridgefield Rail Trail, among other entities.

The project will enhance traffic flow and parking availability by creating a circular, two-way lot with 69 spaces. It will eliminate an existing pathway between the guild and the Norway maple to prevent people from parking or driving near it.

Paving near the tree would damage its root system since the top 18 inches of soil — from which the tree draws its water and nutrients — would have to be ripped out, O’Leary said. He said cars parking and driving near the base of the tree have already caused root damage and soil compaction issues.

“It definitely needs some work and a little bit of TLC,” O’Leary said.

A tree grows in Ridgefield

O’Leary surveyed the tree on July 22 after John Kelly, of Pound Ridge, N.Y., brought it to his attention. Kelly was invited to view some artwork at the guild on July 8, when he encountered the “mammoth” maple.

“I thought, ‘it can’t be a Norway maple’ — they’re long, slender trees,” Kelly said. “This (one) was fat, stubby and perfectly round, which is very unusual.”

Kelly has an “uncommon interest” in trees since his property is home to the second largest tulip tree in the nation, as designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ridgefield’s Norway maple is designated as one of Connecticut’s notable trees. In 2014, it stood at roughly 78 feet tall, 84 feet across and 15.5 feet in diameter. O’Leary estimates the tree could be between 150 and 200 years old.

“It’s difficult to tell its age because they grow pretty fast,” Kelly said, “but instead of shooting up 100 feet high it sat in splendor without competition for many many years (and grew into) a perfect elliptical.”

He added, “It’s an important part of the DNA of Ridgefield.”

The town plans to preserve the tree by installing a “green area” around it, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. This could include features like a Belgian block border, benches, sculptures and mural space, inviting visitors to stop by, sit and create.

A place to park

Clearing for the project is anticipated to start some time next year. Marconi hopes to complete much of the work through the town’s highway department to minimize expenses. The cost of the project is unknown.

There’s an addition going on to the Theater Barn as we speak, so that will certainly bring more people into that venue, and we need to create more parking,” he said.

The existing parking lots at the end of Halpin, which are shared by a number of entities, are “challenging and insufficient,” Ridgefield Theater Barn Executive Director Pamme Jones said.

“We’re excited to move forward with a parking plan that the town has promised us, especially with the official (cultural district) designation,” she added. “It’s hard to convince people that our project is legitimate when we can’t provide parking.”

Guild President Mary Pat Devine said the new parking lot would greatly improve the area while allowing the Norway maple to grow “for years to come.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com