Big Green (Street) Monsters

By Debbie Gilbert
Gainesville, GA (August 23, 2007)- Like humans, every tree has a maximum lifespan. And it appears that time may be running out for many trees in downtown Gainesville. “I’m concerned about the trees on Green Street, from a safety standpoint,” said Gainesville retiree Earle Darby, who spent 30 years working for the U.S. Forest Service. “Those trees are beautiful and look sound as a dollar, but I guarantee you a lot of them are hollow as a drum inside.

By early September, Hall County’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant Project is expected to complete a tree management plan that will include an assessment of tree health at several downtown locations. Rick Foote, Hall County natural resources coordinator and leader of the tree project, said the report may include recommendations for pruning or removing trees that are considered hazardous.
“The work would be voluntary and would be the responsibility of the property owner,” he said. “The city could only get involved if the tree is in the right-of-way.” However, if trees do need to be removed, property owners may be able to get some assistance in replacing them. Keep Hall Beautiful is now accepting grant proposals for its tree replacement fund, which will pay for 75 percent of the cost of buying new trees, up to $1,000 per applicant.
The grants are available for local government-owned properties such as parks and schools, but private property owners are also eligible under certain conditions, such as if their land is in a designated historic district. Grant applications and information about the program can be downloaded from Keep Hall Beautiful’s Web site.
“The grants aren’t just for within the city of Gainesville,” said Marsha Fletcher, director of Keep Hall Beautiful. “It’s countywide, as long as you meet the criteria.” She said the grant program is a key component of the urban tree project. “When we started gathering data, we knew we would find some trees that are diseased and probably need to be removed,” she said.
But trees can be expensive, and Fletcher wanted to offer an incentive so that people could buy replacements. “This is not intended to be a giveaway,” she said. “We feel that if the recipient pays for a portion of the cost, they will have a sense of ownership and will take better care of the tree.”
Replacement trees must be native species that can thrive in this area, and when possible, they should be planted in the same location where the old trees were removed. Recipients must pledge to maintain the tree once it is planted and submit a progress report to the committee. They will receive recognition at the Hall County Arbor Day ceremony in February.
But the need for new trees is going to be far greater than this single program can accommodate. “The stress of this long drought and hot weather is causing large trees to die all over the place,” Darby said.
And even when trees are replanted, it will take many years for them to grow to a size that approaches the grandeur of the trees now lining Green Street. Darby said it will be sad to lose that glorious canopy, but it’s a fact of life that Gainesville residents will have to accept.
Foote points out that large trees can raise real estate values, for both aesthetic and practical reasons. “By providing shade, trees cool homes and reduce the need for electricity,” he said. “They also help remove pollutants from the air.” But there’s a downside, too, according to Darby. “The property owner can be liable if their tree falls and causes injury or damage,” he said.
For the full article, visit the Gainesville Times.