City’s free tree program takes root

By Diana Nelson Jones
Pittsburgh, PA (April 16, 2010)- In just 30 minutes on Thursday morning, 1,000 people snapped up free dogwood, crab apple and sweet gum seedlings the city gave away through its TreeVitalize program. The city’s urban forester, Lisa Ceoffe, said she was astonished at the turnout. At the same event last year, fewer than 100 people showed up to claim free seedlings. The remaining 900-plus were given away at farmers markets.

An estimated 2,000 people formed a snaky line around the portico of the City-County Building and down the Grant Street sidewalk by 11 a.m., when the first tree was handed out. People who showed up at 11:35 a.m., expecting to have until 1 p.m. to claim a tree said, “Oh man,” and “You’re kidding!” when they learned the trees were gone. People in line dispersed in disbelief.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Ms. Ceoffe said, “this many people taking time on their lunch hour for a tree.” She said she overnight-ordered 1,000 trees to give away Saturday at an Earth Day event at the Frick Park Environmental Center, 2500 Beechwood Blvd. That event, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., was to have been the vehicle for dispersing what was left from yesterday’s giveaway.
More saplings will be distributed at a May 5 event, “Root for Trees,” from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Katz Plaza, Penn Avenue and 7th Street. It’s not certain how many. “Root for Trees”- a partnership of the Cultural Trust, Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, Point Park University and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy- will promote the planting of trees in the city.
The goal of TreeVitalize, a collaboration of the city, county and environmental non-profits, is to plant 20,000 trees by 2012. Each recipient of a free tree got care instructions and was asked to register the tree at or by calling 412-586-2396. The city wants to track them in order to reach its goal.
In the meantime, mature trees in the city are way behind schedule for proper pruning. The city’s forestry division, the contractors it works with and arborists for non-profit organizations have been overwhelmed by the numbers of trees that received C- and D grades in a forestry survey several years ago.
TreeVitalize’s goal is to reeducate people with new trees, Ms. Ceoffe said. “We are preaching the right tree in the right place.” Nurseries have donated and the city’s Shade Tree Commission has bought the saplings for giveaway. At this stage in their growth, they cost about $1, said Ms. Ceoffe. While the mission of TreeVitalize is to build the region’s tree canopy, the free trees were intended for city residents, she said. “But what are you going to do, check IDs? We just want people to plant trees.”
Judy Kaplan of Moon got a sweet gum she said she would plant in her front yard. “I lost a dogwood.” When Judy Hale Reed of Hazelwood showed up, the table was empty except for the card that read “sweet gum.” She had wanted a crab apple.
“Oh well,” she said. “There are other sources, and I’m employed. I can afford to buy a tree.”
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Pittsburgh Post Gazette- City’s free tree program takes root