Jacques eyes half-century of service

Warren Jacques and Dave Wilson (background) have been caring for a laceleaf maple tree in Twin Brooks Park for nearly 25 years.
Warren Jacques and Dave Wilson (background) have been caring for a laceleaf maple tree in Twin Brooks Park for nearly 25 years.

After 45 years as the town’s tree warden, you would think that no one specific tree stands out in Warren Jacques’ memory. And you would be wrong.

Jacques has seen the elms disappear, and has helped fight insect invasions on local hemlock and ash trees. But it is a small maple that was growing along White Plains Road that still holds his attention decades later.

“Just past the circle at the entrance to Twin Brooks Park, you’ll see a dissectum lace leaf maple [often called a Japanese maple] that former First Selectman Dave Wilson and I have been taking care of for more than 20 years,” Jacques said. “It was growing next to the Abriola Funeral Home and in 1995, they donated it to the town.”

The tree, which Jacques estimates at about 125 years old, is among the oldest of its kind on the nation. They typically grow to about 50 feet tall, though the one at Twin Brooks appears to have split at the base of its trunk many years ago. Its height has topped out at about 10 feet, though its branches spread about 50 feet over the ground in the center of the traffic circle at the park entrance.

The tree’s width and longevity are due to the ongoing efforts of Jacques and Wilson, who spend a few weekends each year pruning dead limbs, placing supports under drooping branches, and otherwise monitoring the maple’s health. Jacques said part of the reason for the ongoing efforts was the difficulty he and the town had getting it there in the first place.

“When we brought it here, it took three days to get it dug up, moved and replanted,” he said. “The root ball by itself weighed 12,000 pounds.”

Despite its history, the Japanese maple is just one of the town’s estimated 20,000 trees that line Trumbull’s streets and fill its parks. In his 45 years as tree warden, spanning eight first selectman administrations, Jacques said the biggest change has been the increase in work he does in conjunction with the United Illuminating Co., although the cyclical waves of invasive insects is also up there.

“When Jim Butler hired me, I was one of the few licensed arborists around,” Jacques said. “There was a great need due to the gypsy moth invasion that happened in 1970-71, and many of the oaks were dead.”

That gypsy moth wave was followed by another in 1979-80. Then, the wooly aphid feasted on Connecticut’s hemlocks throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Now the emerald ash borer presents the greatest threat to the town’s greenery.

But the main part of the job now is keeping the town’s trees clear of the power lines, a job Jacques describes as “like walking a razor’s edge.”

“Everyone wants their trees, but UI wants their system up and running,” he said. “That’s a big change. When I came to Trumbull in 1968, there wasn’t even a streetlight from the Bridgeport line to Monroe.”

With all the changes Jacques has seen, there is one more looming — his eventual replacement. Now 77 years old, Jacques said he plans to call it a career once he reaches the half-century mark.

“I love serving the town, looking out for hazards every day, and responding to over 1,000 tree-related concerns each year,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 45 years now. I’m going for 50, and then we’ll make sure there’s a smooth transition.”