By Kevin Rector
Cantonsville, MD (October 21, 2009)- A group of Catonsville residents, worried about the age and well-being of the area’s largest trees, has come up with a plan. The group has formed a new committee with the goal of planting 200 new trees per year for the next 20 years. The new trees will serve to replace the area’s “natural canopy” as older trees die out, according to Richard Hiteshew, chairman of the fledgling Catonsville Canopy Tree Restoration Project.
“The best time to have done this would have been 20 years ago,” Hiteshew said. “The next best time is now.”
Throughout Catonsville, large trees are being lost each year for a variety of reasons, including discretionary removal, storm damage, lightning strikes, vine strangulation, disease and old age, said Hiteshew, a resident of Oak Hill Road.
The group’s members- who include Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce President George Brookhart, Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association President Kirby Spencer and Times community columnist Maggie Schorr- believe that “an annual community-wide effort to plant tree species that generally grow to canopy heights will, over time, result in the restoration and expansion of the canopy tree population over the greater Catonsville area,” according to the group’s preliminary business plan.
“The objective is to create an urban forest,” Hiteshew said. The group first got together as a result of Hiteshew’s efforts on Aug. 25, and most recently met at Cafe on the Grove on Oct. 13. Hiteshew said he got the idea to form the group after talking with his daughter Kathleen Grissom, an environmental ecology graduate of Tulane University, about Catonsville’s aging canopy.
The group’s goal of planting 4,000 trees in the next 20 years is ambitious, but is something the community-minded residents of Catonsville can easily achieve if they work together, Hiteshew said.
The project has a “soft boundary” area of the 21228 ZIP code, but would also consider planting trees in areas such as Ten Hills and Arbutus if groups from those areas showed interest, Hiteshew said.
The group plans to work in four phases of five years, and reevaluate their overall goals at the start of each new phase, Hiteshew said. For now, they are focused on a first-year goal of securing enough funding from community partners and donors to plant 200 trees on or around Arbor Day in April, partly as a symbolic recognition of Catonsville’s 2010 bicentennial, Hiteshew said.
“I think the first year, we want it to be really meaningful, get a lot of press, and make a lot of impact,” he said. “We’re going to learn a tremendous amount the first year.” The committee has already raised $2,000 in donations, but is trying to raise at least $20,000 for next year’s plantings, Hiteshew said.
The group plans to buy trees- including oak, maple, hickory, poplar, pine, hemlock and sycamore- that are already 8-feet-tall to avoid their being eaten by deer, Hiteshew said. “We’re not starting with seedlings or saplings,” he said. The trees will likely be planted in clusters on larger tracts of public land such as school campuses and along smaller public parcels — in part to avoid the liability issues that come with planting on individual property owners’ land- but the committee does not have exact locations yet, members said.
Bill Rees, a Fairway Avenue resident who is director of forestry management for BGE and a member of the new committee, called the plan a “long-term investment” in the natural aesthetic of the area that will benefit the grandchildren of current residents.
“Catonsville has an aging, urban forest, and is losing trees for a variety of reasons,” Rees said at the Oct. 13 meeting. “If we don’t have a plan to energize replacement, we’re going to lose it completely.”
The committee is currently working to build partnerships with local schools and churches, as well as local nonprofits. Already signed on as partners are the Rotary Club of Catonsville-Sunrise, the Catonsville Heritage Foundation and the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, and the group has been in contact with more than a dozen other schools, groups and individuals as well.
“The more organizations that are involved, the better off we are,” Hiteshew said at the meeting. According to Jim Himel, a committee member and North Beaumont Avenue resident who works as an urban forester, the group will likely have multiple opportunities in the next year to partner with the state as well.
“The state has their own internal mandate to get so many trees in the ground,” he said. The state is in the midst of a campaign called “Marylanders Plant Trees” that aims to plant a million trees across the state by 2011, and is asking private citizens to plant an additional 50,000 trees by next year.
As of Oct. 7, citizens had planted 19,596 trees toward that goal, according to the Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Service Web site that is tracking plantings. Those interested in getting involved with the Catonsville project or donating to it can contact Hiteshew at 410-788-8811 or email@example.com.
Cantonsville Times- More trees, younger trees are group’s goal