Elysian Fields Gets Live Oaks- Plantings fill out empty neutral ground

by Susan Finch, Staff writer
Times Picayune, Metro
New Orleans (December 15, 2006)- Like tens of thousands of mature trees that once lined the city’s boulevards and other public spaces, the stately magnolias on the neutral ground along Elysian Fields Avenue are now gone, after soaking for 6 weeks in brackish floodwater. The vast, expensive task of filling such voids, starting along some of the city’s most traveled thoroughfares, began Thursday as city employees and volunteers began planting 60 live oaks on the sprawling green median between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Filmore Avenue.

Sisters Jean Kijko and Maureen Kolb were among the group, comprising Parks and Parkways employees, volunteers from the nonprofit Parkway Partners and neighborhood activists. They came out specifically to plant a tree in honor of their 86-year-old mother, Mildred Simeral, who died Tuesday. Kolb said she’ll be returning to the city, with reinforcements, to do more planting: “I’m bringing my children back,” she said. “I have two teenagers, and we are going to make this a project.”
The new trees, most about 12 feet high and 3 inches in diameter, are being planted far enough apart to allow sufficient space for what some Gentilly residents dream of having there: a streetcar line.
Bringing new trees to the barren Elysian Fields neutral ground is just the start of the “ReLeaf New Orleans” campaign, which probably will take five years, said Parkway Partners executive director Jean Fahr, whose group is leading the effort to raise money to repair New Orleans’ lush green canopy. Parks and Parkways director Ann MacDonald said the project that started Wednesday is the first involving neutral grounds.
The city also plans to plant new trees — including live oaks, crape myrtles and magnolias — on Elysian Fields from the river to Lake Pontchartrain, on Claiborne Avenue from Elysian Fields to the Jefferson Parish line, St. Claude Avenue between Esplanade and Poland avenues, and Broad Street between Fontainebleau Drive and Treasure Street.
What kept the effort from ginning up sooner, she said, was the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s initial refusal to underwrite the removal of dead trees on public property. FEMA ultimately changed its mind after Parks and Parkways bombarded it for months with data to back up its claim that the flooding killed the trees, she said.
Support for the tree restoration program also has come from the Wisner Foundation, Entergy, the Home Depot Foundation, the Brown Foundation, Bayou Land Resource Conservation District Service and the Alliance for Community Trees, among others, Fahr said.
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