NeighborWoods program helps grow tree population

By Donna Baxter
The News-Leader

Springfield, MO (June 15, 2010)- Bill and Mary Jane Sechler were devastated when the 60-foot hard maple tree on the corner of their lot was cracked down the middle by the ice storm of 2007. As if by fate, the tree was struck by lightening six months later.

“We had to take it out,” said Bill Sechler. “There are a lot of hard maples in this neighborhood, and I hated to see it go.” Not long after he set out a small maple and a white dogwood in the corner of his yard, a notice appeared on the door, he said. The Sechlers chose six trees from a list provided by the city — a ‘Vanderwolf’ pine, two ‘Green Pillar’ oaks, an ‘Espresso’ Kentucky coffee tree (has no seeds) and two eastern white pines.

“Twenty years from now … we won’t be here,” Bill Sechler said, “but they’ll really be nice.” The new trees are part of NeighborWoods, a partnership between the city of Springfield, the Tree City USA Citizens Advisory Committee and neighborhood groups or other nonprofit groups for the purpose of renewing, maintaining and enhancing the city’s urban forests. With the passage last week of the city’s 1/4-cent sales tax to support Community Improvement Programs, NeighborWoods will continue taking names of residents who’d like to add trees to their property. It likely will resume planting after revenue from the renewed tax starts rolling in, according to Springfield Public Works. City funds have been used for several years for purchasing tax-exempt trees from area nurseries through a city contract and then neighborhood volunteers plant the trees, said Bill Roach, Springfield’s interim urban forester.

“The Sechlers’ trees were just planted this spring,” said Roach. “Normally we would put in six-foot trees. These are eight because we had them available.” “And we wanted big trees since we won’t be around so long,” said Mary Jane Sechler. Roach explained that many trees were planted along the residential rights of way after the ice storm. “We can also plant them off the right of way if they impact the streetscape,” he said. “They look better than a board fence … I call that the ‘stockade mentality.'” Since the ice storm, several hundred trees have been planted as part of NeighborWoods, he said.”The easiest way to participate in NeighborWoods is with a formal neighborhood organization, but that’s not necessary,” Roach said. “We get one or two people in the neighborhood who will be the chairperson, who will contact neighbors to see if they are interested … do the leg work, get the people lined up.”

Roach tries to meet with each participant and have them select an appropriate tree from the list. “We try to plant a minimum of 20 trees in each area because of economics. In most of the neighborhoods we’ve worked with, we’ve planted anywhere from 40 to 80,” he said. “It’s a great program.” Roach said he adheres to the power company’s “the right tree in the right place” slogan, but it applies to things other than just power lines; for example: buried lines, water and sewer. “A lot of people will put the wrong tree in the wrong place. I can answer questions about the right tree, where they want it and what they want to accomplish with it,” he said. “Conversely, when you look at trees as a long-term commitment, you really want something there that you’ll say ‘that was a really good decision to put that tree there.’ “

Quite often if a person is not familiar with trees, that’s not going to happen. “The average individual just isn’t into that stuff much. Sometimes they just shut their eyes and pick one at random,” Roach said. Feedback indicates that NeighborWoods helps develop a sense of neighborhood when residents work on a common project and have an opportunity to meet neighbors that they might otherwise not know, Roach said. Some neighborhoods have done a project more than once for the benefit of neighbors who didn’t get in on it the first time and want in now that they see what it’s all about.

A city permit to plant a tree on a street right of way is free, Roach continued. “What it does is give us control over trees for which we are responsible as far as type of tree and distance from the intersection. The requirements are there so we won’t end up with a problem later on,” he said. Now is the time to apply because the steps necessary to get the tree in place will take until next spring, which is actually the best time to plant, Roach said. During the last two years, approximately 340 trees have been planted as part of the NeighborWoods program as well as 815 more planted in Public Works projects, Roach said.

On a hot day, just drive onto a tree-lined street. It’ll be up to 10 degrees cooler. He explained that trees use up heat out of the air in their food conversion process. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today, a NeighborWoods brochure says.

Related Resources:
NeighborWoods program helps to grow our tree population
National NeighborWoods Program
National NeighborWoods Month