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14 minutes reading time (2863 words)

3 neighbors support retaining redwoods

Sandra A. Miller of Arlington wrote the following opinion piece in defense of the dawn redwood. Scroll down for two more viewpoints.

The largest of three dawn redwood trees in Magnolia Park is many things to both the Arlington community and our natural environment, but it is certainly not a "weed," as one gardener stated at the July 16 Conservation Commission meeting in which the fate of the tree was discussed for close to two hours.

For those who haven’t followed the ongoing story of this unique, 65-foot-tall deciduous conifer with a 50 million-year-old history in this area, the Park and Recreation Commission’s plans for the Magnolia Park renovation -- which includes expanding the community garden from 26 to 54 plots -- requires killing this redwood that was planted in the 1980s, just a few years after the community garden was established.

Intentionally planted in that damp spot -- more hospitable to swamp-loving trees than community gardens -- the redwood was most likely put there specifically for water absorption.

The only thing weedlike about the tree is its ability to grow impressively. Now it is our job as environmentally concerned citizens to make sure it continues to do so.

Eighteen years ago I moved into a house that abuts the community garden. Every day I look at that tree and see astounding things up there: from my kids and their friends waving down from the middle branches, to a red-tailed hawk that regularly rests in the highest limbs. People often sit or picnic under the redwood that has come to provide much coveted shade in Magnolia Park where two recent microbursts have claimed several old-growth beauties.

Heartfelt statements

Having been cc’d on many of the emails imploring the Parks and Recreation Commission to spare the tree, I have read a range of heartfelt statements, such as the following one from a young resident who regularly climbs it:

"In the tree, you enjoy a gentle breeze that doesn't reach the ground. You get a wide view over the park and the field and can swish the leaves over your fingers and pretend to cast spells with them. You ... enjoy the feeling of the bark under your fingers that peels away in strands and doesn't scrape at skin like most trees. And you sit on a branch about level with your friend and exchange secrets ...."

Just as we must value the community’s love for this tree, as evidenced by 500 signatures and hundreds of impassioned comments on a Change.org petition, we have to look at the facts, too.

* Dawn redwoods were discovered (through fossils) to have existed in the area in prehistoric times. When a few of these trees on the brink of extinction were discovered in the early 1940's in China, researchers at the Arnold Arboretum worked painstakingly to bring back seeds. Thanks to their efforts, some of the oldest specimens anywhere in the US occur in New England, including those in Magnolia Park.

* The dawn redwood does not have an aggressive root system as pro-tree-removal people have erroneously stated. See the U.S. Forest Service fact sheet for Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

* There is a misconception that the canopy will widen so much that the garden will be entirely shaded. The tree is in the western part of the park and is not responsible for much of the garden shade.

* The tree’s canopy presently could be trimmed up to 20 percent without requiring permission from the Conservation Commission.

Also, I want the community to understand that our redwood-saving efforts have not caused the delays in the playground renovation, and no media outlet has been clear on this critical point. The sole reason for the delay is because of the admitted mistake of the Parks and Recreation Commission in seeking the necessary environmental permit from the Conservation Commission. At the July 16 meeting, Parks and Rec member Jen Rothenberg publicly apologized for that oversight.

Just as I am a tree lover, I am also a gardener. I am fortunate to have a productive vegetable plot in my yard and believe there should be several community gardens for residents to utilize for growing their own food. But I cannot abide the idea that in a town abundant with dry, sun-filled public space, we do not have the creativity to build gardens elsewhere. I refuse to believe that we must kill a rare, mature tree to expand a garden in an area that is considered wetlands.

The six or more community gardeners who have signed our petition to save the tree seem to agree. Several of those gardeners have come to meetings and spoken out vociferously in defense of saving it.

More support July 14

Consider this, as one community member put it at Thursday’s meeting:

"It is commendable that the plan’s Notice of Intent preserves 41 trees and plants 39 new trees, and 'has increased the number of trees to be planted so that the number of caliper inches of trees to be replaced is equal to the caliper inches of removed trees.' Such an action is a clear indication of the importance of trees; however, this is not purely a mathematical exercise where it is justifiable to get rid of calipers as long as those calipers are replaced. I understand that the regulations require the applicant to submit canopy numbers in fifteen years, but the realities are that the people and the wildlife enjoy the canopy that those trees provide today and not 15 years from now."

The large, healthy dawn redwood in Magnolia Park captures the hearts and imagination of visitors who value its shade and beauty in every season. In the decades since it was intentionally planted, it has risen to become a stalwart sentinel that watches over our park. That tree is beloved. That tree provides habitat for wildlife. That tree is a rare and historically significant specimen that has become many things to our environment and our community. That tree is not a weed.


This viewpoint was published Monday, July 18, 2016.


Process fails to support removing trees, writers say

David Loh of Arlington presented the following remarks to Conservation Commission on July 14, 2016. Scroll down for a second viewpoint. Both seek to save two dawn redwood trees:

This Conservation Commission is bound by the Arlington Regulations for Wetlands Protection. [read them here >>

The applicant, the Town of Arlington Recreation Department, has the burden of proving by a preponderance of credible evidence from a competent source to support all matters asserted in its application.

The applicant proposes to remove four trees. Section 24, Subsection D, sets forth the five criteria this commission should consider whether to permit the removal of any of these trees.

I am submitting at the end of this statement a chart applying each of those criteria to each of the four trees proposed to be removed by the applicant.

The 30-inch dawn redwood, even by the applicant’s admission is a healthy, beautiful and structurally sound tree. It is certainly not in a state of "irreversible decay" or "in undesirable vegetation present as a result of unintentional lack of maintenance." In fact, it is reported that the applicant itself in 1985 planted that very tree by design. Thus, criterion (1) under Subsection D cannot be a valid reason for removing this tree.

Criterion (2) cannot serve as a rationale for the removal as there is no bank or slope stabilization at issue in this matter.

Chart on 24DWhile the dawn redwoods are not a native species to Massachusetts (at least not in the past 5 million years or so), the fact that Arlington Recreation Department planted these trees by design in 1985 and again proposes to plant one this year clearly suggests that the applicant does not view criterion (3) ("Invasive Species") under Subsection D as a reason to remove the dawn redwoods.

Expanding the community garden or redesigning the Magnolia playground is not part of an ecological restoration project, which is criterion (4). "Ecological restoration" means renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action. In Arlington Recreation Department’s request for proposals for architectural design and construction bids for the Magnolia Park Improvements, no mention whatsoever is made of any ecological restoration aspect to the project. What the applicant proposes to do is in fact the opposite of ecological restoration. In that regard, the applicant fails under criterion (4) as well.

The last of the five criteria pursuant to which the applicant may seek to remove vegetation is if there were "an imminent risk to public health or safety or property as confirmed in writing and submitted to the Commission by the Arlington Tree Warden, Fire Department Representative, Public Safety Office, or a certified arborist." No such written submission has been made. The Tree Warden is instead quoted as stating that the 30-inch dawn redwood is "beautiful" and "structurally sound." The applicant has failed to submit any evidence that the public health or safety or property is at imminent risk from this tree.

Regarding the 12-inch dawn redwood, one that the applicant refers to as, a "relatively healthy tree," the applicant has submitted no credible evidence why this tree should be removed under Section 24, Subsection D, as well.

The Arlington Recreation Department has failed to meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the credible evidence from a competent source in support of removing the two dawn redwoods. Therefore, I respectfully request that this Commission deny the application to remove the two dawn redwoods from Magnolia Park.


A close look at the N.O.I Amendement

Dora Horvath of Arlington sent the following statement to Cori Beckwith and Conservation Commissioners.

I have read the Magnolia Park N.O.I. Amendment that was submitted July 1, 2016, and Section 24- Vegetation Removal and Replacement in the Regulations for Wetland Protection. I see several problematic areas regarding the removal of the 30-inch caliper and 12-inch caliper dawn redwoods. My reasoning will follow the format of the N.O.I. Read the N.O.I here >>

I. Garden Expansion:

Garden expansion is the sole and primary reason given for the removal of the 30-inch caliper dawn redwood. Such reasoning does not meet any of the criteria for removal of vegetation listed in Section 24 D: health of vegetation, bank, invasive species, ecological restoration or imminent risk to the public health and safety.  The Hedlund Design Group argues that the "expanded community garden will provide significant ecological and habitat value for the park in addition to the many health, educational and community benefits of local food production" (p.1).

The big dawn redwood already serves many of these goals: as noted in the Arlington Tree Bylaws "trees improve air quality, protect from heat and glare ... provide natural flood control and contribute to the district character of neighborhoods." As noted, the garden is "too wet," and the roots of the mature redwood provide the natural drainage that is needed in the wetlands.

II. Trees to be Removed

In Section 24 D, two of the five criteria for removal of vegetation include: health of vegetation and imminent risk to public health and safety. None of these criteria are met; in fact, just the opposite is true: "This tree is structurally sound with good root flare" and is a "beautiful tree," as noted by the Tree Warden. "This tree was planted in 1985 or 1986 .... However, this tree is in the way of the expansion of the garden, and the shade and roots from this tree interfere significantly with the current garden. For the success and expansion of the garden this tree would need to be removed" (p.3).

So we are in fact talking about a healthy, majestic tree that poses no risk to anyone or anything- expect for the garden plots. Further on in the document, garden plots are referred to as existing on a 1982 plan. This means that the town of Arlington planted this tree three or four years after garden plots were in place, it has grown to become a beautiful, healthy tree that needs to be cut because it is "not compatible with the adjacent community garden because of its size, because of the shade it creates and because of its aggressive root system" (p.4).

"Aggressive root": According to Fact Sheet published by U.S. Forest Services in 1994, "surface roots [of dawn redwoods] are usually not a problem." They are also, tolerant of air pollution, likes wet areas, resists diseases – in other words, a perfect tree for urban parks. The Arlington Recreation Department made the right choice in 1985 when it selected the dawn redwoods for planting in the flood zone. Another criteria for vegetation removal is that the species is invasive (Section 24, (3)). The recommendation is to plant native trees, and though the redwood is not native (though it existed here millions of years ago) it is not invasive and in fact, the town plans to plant another one as one of the replacement trees.

The 12-inch caliper dawn redwood does not meet the last four criteria for removal and the first criteria (health of vegetation) is unclear. "The  Tree Warden stated that while the 12-inch dawn Redwood is a relatively healthy tree, there could have been some issues with the root ball when planted or it may be competing for light and nutrients with the larger 24-inch Dawn Redwood next to it. A proposed path is close to the 12-inch Dawn Redwood, and the proposal to remove the 12-inch Dawn Redwood would eliminate this path conflict" (p. 5). 

It seems that this redwood is primarily problematic since it is in the way of a path, and though it was labeled as "relatively healthy" there doesn't seem like there was any recommendation to cut it for that reason from the Tree Warden.

III. Proposed Planting & Habitat Value

It is commendable that the N.O.I. preserves 41 trees and plants 39 new trees, and "has increased the number of trees to be planted so that the number of caliper inches of trees to be replaced is equal to the caliper inches of removed trees" (p.5). Such an action is a clear indication of the importance of trees; however, this is not purely a mathematical exercise where it is justifiable to get rid of calipers as long as those calipers are replaced. I understand that the regulations require the applicant to submit canopy numbers in fifteen years, but the realities are that the people and the wildlife enjoy the canopy that those trees provide today and not fifteen years from now.

The wildlife that currently lives in the redwoods will be displaced and people will have to look elsewhere for shade. The current canopy of the two redwoods is nearly 2,000 square feet (1,950 square feet) while the canopy of 24 trees in 15 years is 7,140 square feet. For us to have an accurate comparison, it would be interesting to see how much canopy the current two trees would also provide in 15 years. The benefit of trees can be additive.

The last point made in the N.O.I. refers to the enjoyment that the new plantings will bring to the public and their creation of habitat: "Feedback during the public meetings for Magnolia Park emphasized that children enjoy experiencing nature at the park and desire more and varied plantings. The proposed park plantings will add habitat value and beauty to Magnolia Park. Five new Red Maples ... have wonderful fall color ... and [provide] cover for many types of bird species" (p.6).

These are precisely the same reasons why we need to keep the two redwoods. The public has written hundreds of comments about the joy that the redwood has provided their children, the magnificence of the trees and the aesthetic value they add to the park and the community as a whole. As for the habitat, the neighbors who live next to the tree have written about the wildlife, including a red hawk, that they have witnessed in that area.  Furthermore, section 24 A. of the wetland regulations states, "plant size ordinarily is proportional to habitat value; i.e., large wooded trees are of greatest habitat value." The current habitat value of the 30-year-old redwood tree is not comparable to what the new plantings will provide next year or the year after, and the wildlife and the community may not want to wait 15 years to reap the benefits.

In conclusion, I urge the conservation commissioners to save the 30-inch caliper and 12-inch caliper dawn redwoods because the applicant has not met the criteria of  Section 24- Vegetation Removal and Replacement in the Regulations for Wetland Protection. As commissioners you base your decisions on specific criteria, but as citizens of this community you may also consider the precedent we would set as a town if we chop down mature, healthy trees because we can't creatively redesign around them. Except for the redwood removal, the Hedlund design is beautiful and the planting of new trees is part of that beauty, so let us all work together to ensure that the magnificent dawn redwoods enhance and add to that beauty.


These last two viewpoints were published Saturday, July 16, 2016.

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Comments

Guest - Jessica Smolow on Monday, 18 July 2016 12:43
Astonished this tree is being considered for removal

Hello,

My name is Jessica Smolow and I live on Milton Street, 2 blocks away from Magnolia Park. My husband and I bought our condo a little less than 2 years ago and in that time had our son who is now 14 months old. We love living in East Arlington and have loved Magnolia Park, and up until May, had gone there everyday after we picked him up from daycare since he was 4 months old.

Even in the winter, it was nice to get some sunshine and talk with our neighbors (which is another question I have about the postponement of the renovation - when is this actually starting and when it will be completed? And why can't we be using this in the meantime while these hearings are taking place?).

When I heard about this petition and read a little more into the background, I was astonished to hear that part of the renovations of the park were to cut down these beautiful trees by the community gardens. I went to the meeting last Thursday to learn more and could not help to think that this was a no-brainer, apologies if that comes across inappropriate.

The trees are so magnificent and enjoyed by so many. Again, I have only been living here about 2 years, but it seems to me that almost every property in East Arlington seems to have a yard of some sorts (not like downtown Boston or the Back Bay), if people want to garden, they can build a garden in their yard and can choose to do so. If cutting down the trees allow 54 people garden space, but takes away hundreds of people's enjoyment of the trees, how does that make sense?

I am not saying to not have community gardens at Magnolia Park, but find a place where it works (sounds like besides the tree issue, this area is very wet and isn't good for gardening anyway). I was not convinced by the civil engineer and the design team that they have looked at all of their options. It seems as if they made this plan, and are trying to work with it, even if it doesn't make sense (leaving the 24' tree that will end up with roots and needed to be circumvented eventually anyway) rather than starting again in finding a better place for it.

Another point that the woman from Parks and Rec made that when they had the community meetings with families and people from the neighborhood at the Hardy School was that no one spoke out about the trees. But I was wondering if they told the families, that part of expanding the community gardens, meant cutting down these beautiful trees? I know that if I went to this meeting, I would definitely raise my hand and say I was interested in more garden plots for the park and community, but not if they told me it meant cutting down these trees and I am not sure that was explicitly expressed.

I know we are just one family, but I know I speak for many when we say these trees add enjoyment and much needed shade to the park. Since Magnolia Park has been closed, we have been going to Hardy School playground and the Spy Pond park and they are too sunny and we only go on the weekends when we can go in the early mornings.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing your decision.

Best regards,
Jessica Smolow

Hello, My name is Jessica Smolow and I live on Milton Street, 2 blocks away from Magnolia Park. My husband and I bought our condo a little less than 2 years ago and in that time had our son who is now 14 months old. We love living in East Arlington and have loved Magnolia Park, and up until May, had gone there everyday after we picked him up from daycare since he was 4 months old. Even in the winter, it was nice to get some sunshine and talk with our neighbors (which is another question I have about the postponement of the renovation - when is this actually starting and when it will be completed? And why can't we be using this in the meantime while these hearings are taking place?). When I heard about this petition and read a little more into the background, I was astonished to hear that part of the renovations of the park were to cut down these beautiful trees by the community gardens. I went to the meeting last Thursday to learn more and could not help to think that this was a no-brainer, apologies if that comes across inappropriate. The trees are so magnificent and enjoyed by so many. Again, I have only been living here about 2 years, but it seems to me that almost every property in East Arlington seems to have a yard of some sorts (not like downtown Boston or the Back Bay), if people want to garden, they can build a garden in their yard and can choose to do so. If cutting down the trees allow 54 people garden space, but takes away hundreds of people's enjoyment of the trees, how does that make sense? I am not saying to not have community gardens at Magnolia Park, but find a place where it works (sounds like besides the tree issue, this area is very wet and isn't good for gardening anyway). I was not convinced by the civil engineer and the design team that they have looked at all of their options. It seems as if they made this plan, and are trying to work with it, even if it doesn't make sense (leaving the 24' tree that will end up with roots and needed to be circumvented eventually anyway) rather than starting again in finding a better place for it. Another point that the woman from Parks and Rec made that when they had the community meetings with families and people from the neighborhood at the Hardy School was that no one spoke out about the trees. But I was wondering if they told the families, that part of expanding the community gardens, meant cutting down these beautiful trees? I know that if I went to this meeting, I would definitely raise my hand and say I was interested in more garden plots for the park and community, but not if they told me it meant cutting down these trees and I am not sure that was explicitly expressed. I know we are just one family, but I know I speak for many when we say these trees add enjoyment and much needed shade to the park. Since Magnolia Park has been closed, we have been going to Hardy School playground and the Spy Pond park and they are too sunny and we only go on the weekends when we can go in the early mornings. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing your decision. Best regards, Jessica Smolow
Guest - Vihren Kolev on Monday, 18 July 2016 12:06
Preserve the tree

Dear Members of Conservation Commission,

During the last public hearing about the reconstruction of Magnolia Park and the debate about taking down the metasequoia tree and building community gardens, we heard a lot of technical arguments: a habitat or not, a wet zone maintenance or not, if the commission can intervene, etc. It seems that at this technical level there are equally valid arguments for keeping or taking down the tree. However, I strongly believe the commission should consider more broadly the effect of each of the options to the general public benefit and the esthetic values.

In the first place, who will benefit from the tree staying? It seems quite broad public who regularly visits the park, hundreds of children who grow up in the park, the entire neighborhood.
Now, who will benefit from cutting the tree down? To me it looks like a handful of people who will receive a small piece of land to exercise their hobby to grow plants from May through October. As a matter of fact I was surprised to hear that one of the gardeners, who represented the community, stated that he had a similar tree in his backyard. I am wondering if he has space to grow a big tree in his backyard why he is requesting to destroy a public tree on a public park and grab a piece of land!? Does this sound selfish and scrupulous?

We all enjoy the magnificent old trees in Arnold Arboretum and Boston Common. As a matter of fact, way more people visit these institutions then any community garden. The parks and the grown trees are pretty all year around. Please consider what the gardens will look like in late fall, winter, and early spring. Inevitably when piles of weeds and dead plants start amounting, the beautiful gardens will easily turn into an eyesore.

The current situation highly resembles a hundred year old story. In 1909 President Roosevelt signed the pact to establish Olympic National Park after visiting the site. Two groups had fought for the land: Preservationists who wanted the land for national park and a group of commercial loggers who wanted the land for industrial use.

There was substantial opposition for establishment of more parks with federal government jurisdiction and the President hesitated to assign a new NP. The loggers invited Mr. Roosevelt and senators to visit the north-west and showed them the scale of industrial logging, something they were proud with. Mr. Roosevelt was fascinated by the magnificent trees he saw on his way to the logging site.

When he saw the cut trees, to the great amusement of his hosts, he exclaimed: I hope whoever did this would burn in the hell! He was devastated by the view of destroyed serene forests. When he returned to Washington, DC he immediately signed the pact for the establishment of Olympic National Park.

Today, 100 years later, the timber companies are long gone and forgotten but tens of thousands of people visit Olympic National Park and awe the humongous trees. Everybody recognizes Mr. Roosevelt’s contribution to preserve the nature for the generations. I hope, one day after 30 years you will have the opportunity to bring your own grand and great grand children to Magnolia Park and when they see the trees there they will say “WOW!” and you will feel proud with preserving the old grown trees. If you decide to take down the tree today, we will never have that old tree again.

I hope you will vote in the favor of public interest and the generations to come.

Most sincerely, Vihren Kolev, 16- year Arlington resident

Dear Members of Conservation Commission, During the last public hearing about the reconstruction of Magnolia Park and the debate about taking down the metasequoia tree and building community gardens, we heard a lot of technical arguments: a habitat or not, a wet zone maintenance or not, if the commission can intervene, etc. It seems that at this technical level there are equally valid arguments for keeping or taking down the tree. However, I strongly believe the commission should consider more broadly the effect of each of the options to the general public benefit and the esthetic values. In the first place, who will benefit from the tree staying? It seems quite broad public who regularly visits the park, hundreds of children who grow up in the park, the entire neighborhood. Now, who will benefit from cutting the tree down? To me it looks like a handful of people who will receive a small piece of land to exercise their hobby to grow plants from May through October. As a matter of fact I was surprised to hear that one of the gardeners, who represented the community, stated that he had a similar tree in his backyard. I am wondering if he has space to grow a big tree in his backyard why he is requesting to destroy a public tree on a public park and grab a piece of land!? Does this sound selfish and scrupulous? We all enjoy the magnificent old trees in Arnold Arboretum and Boston Common. As a matter of fact, way more people visit these institutions then any community garden. The parks and the grown trees are pretty all year around. Please consider what the gardens will look like in late fall, winter, and early spring. Inevitably when piles of weeds and dead plants start amounting, the beautiful gardens will easily turn into an eyesore. The current situation highly resembles a hundred year old story. In 1909 President Roosevelt signed the pact to establish Olympic National Park after visiting the site. Two groups had fought for the land: Preservationists who wanted the land for national park and a group of commercial loggers who wanted the land for industrial use. There was substantial opposition for establishment of more parks with federal government jurisdiction and the President hesitated to assign a new NP. The loggers invited Mr. Roosevelt and senators to visit the north-west and showed them the scale of industrial logging, something they were proud with. Mr. Roosevelt was fascinated by the magnificent trees he saw on his way to the logging site. When he saw the cut trees, to the great amusement of his hosts, he exclaimed: I hope whoever did this would burn in the hell! He was devastated by the view of destroyed serene forests. When he returned to Washington, DC he immediately signed the pact for the establishment of Olympic National Park. Today, 100 years later, the timber companies are long gone and forgotten but tens of thousands of people visit Olympic National Park and awe the humongous trees. Everybody recognizes Mr. Roosevelt’s contribution to preserve the nature for the generations. I hope, one day after 30 years you will have the opportunity to bring your own grand and great grand children to Magnolia Park and when they see the trees there they will say “WOW!” and you will feel proud with preserving the old grown trees. If you decide to take down the tree today, we will never have that old tree again. I hope you will vote in the favor of public interest and the generations to come. Most sincerely, Vihren Kolev, 16- year Arlington resident
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