AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
2016 in the Rear View
2016 seemed to go by like a flash in a pan. I can hardly believe another year is in the books but here we stand on the cusp of 2017. But before we dive into next year let’s take some time to remember what happened this year. In coming up with a list I can honestly say I’m awestruck by everything that WTI and our volunteers have accomplished in the last 365 days.
All talk of accomplishments should be prefaced with a look at the impetus for our work. There are many challenges to the health of our community forests but few loom larger around here than the Asian Longhorned Beetle. We have been combating this problem for nearly a decade so it may seem like the problem should be taken care of, that the beetle should be gone and that no more trees should be getting cut down; but that’s not the case. This year nearly 70 trees were found to be infested and had to be removed, but on top of that another 800 trees that surrounded them had to be removed to eliminate the risk of a recurring problem in the future. Many of these infested trees were found in locations with no history of infestation. The only upside is that these infestations were not found near a boundary of the known infested area, they were well within the quarantine zone. Nevertheless, nearly 900 trees were cut down this year because of the Asian Longhorned Beetle; this pest is definitely still a problem and we are still losing trees.
The next thing I want to remember is that this has been a year of transition. This year Worcester Tree Initiative officially became an independent program of Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the main branch of Worcester County Horticultural Society. We still raise our own funding and we still operate in much the same way, but now we have the added benefit of working closely with Tower Hill’s excellent staff and partnering with them on future projects. For instance, we will regularly be teaching at their facility and they will showcase our work for their trainings as well.
The other transition we made this year was in saying farewell to Peggy Middaugh. Many of you will remember Peggy was Director or our agency since 2009. In January 2015 she stepped into the role of Financial Director while Ruth Seward transitioned from Program Coordinator into the Executive Director role. This year, Peggy moved back to her homeland of New Jersey. We can’t thank Peggy enough for giving us a great start and all that she taught us through our years working with her. We will miss her.
With that said, let’s get into some of the statistics of the year starting with our tree planting efforts. Worcester Tree Initiative continues to plant trees, trying to keep up with the losses to the Asian Longhorned Beetle and trees lost to age or development. The City’s Forestry Department and the Department of Conservation and Recreation also are continuing to plant and our efforts often complement one another. Worcester Tree Initiative purchased 126 trees this year but planted nearly 200 thanks to partnerships with other agencies and with the help of donations. This number would have doubled if it were not for the Stage 3 Drought that was declared at the end of the summer and which is still in effect now. The severity of the drought made planting new trees impossible for Fall 2016. However, the outlook is still good for the balance of Worcester’s trees. The city planted about 400 trees in 2016 and DCR planted nearly 200 themselves putting the year’s balance at about 800 trees planted with 200 more to plant left over from this fall.
Worcester Tree Initiative took on the watering of 350 street trees planted by the city for 8 weeks during the summer with our Young Adult Foresters program. We were able to water each tree with 10 gallons of water every week. We employed 5 young adults and a full time supervisor during our summer program. We used gator bags to ensure that the water that we are using is released slowly, allowing the roots to take full advantage of those 10 precious gallons. In the hot and dry conditions of this summer this made the difference between life and death for these young trees. We even got to see 5 trees, which were planted the previous year but clearly still needed watering, spring back to life under our care. We literally brought them back from the brink of death!
Three of our young adults rotated between office tasks and field crews. When they were not needed to water trees, they conducted Tree Health Checks in Burncoat and Greendale. The survey stretched from Millbrook Street to the south up to the northern borders of Worcester and from West Boylston Street in the west to St. Nicholas Ave. in the east. In total more than 3,000 trees, young and old, were surveyed and had their information entered into i-Tree Streets, a tree value assessment software. Additionally, volunteers from numerous schools came out on Fridays and Saturdays helped us to survey another 600 trees on the west side from Chandler Street to Pleasant street and from Foley Stadium to June Street. We’re thrilled with the progress that has been made on this project and look forward to continuing our work with volunteers throughout the winter doing both Tree Health Checks and Tree Pruning Outings.
Between the progress of last January-March and this November and December our volunteer ‘Stewards in the Streets’ have helped us prune more than 200 young street trees in various neighborhoods throughout the city. This is a great start but we would love to double this number in 2017 and we’ll need your help to do it. If you want to learn how to prune trees and help us reach all of the young street trees in Worcester we hope you’ll join us this winter. Our next outings are scheduled for January 6th and 7th.
In a similar vein to our Tree Pruning Outings we also made progress in caring for several parks and open spaces. With the help of more than 80 volunteers WTI helped to keep Dodge Park, Kendrick Field, the West Boylston Street Beautification Project, and the Peace Park clean throughout the year. We planted trees, pruned trees, maintained trails, picked up trash, and raked leaves, leading to cleaner, more accessible, and more beautiful spaces around the city.
We want to thank all of those volunteers and the hundreds of others who helped us to complete projects and attended trainings this year. We hosted or participated in more than 20 trainings this year in schools, parks, and public space, where we shared our knowledge of trees, pests, and the intersection of cities and nature. We love to share this knowledge with people of all ages, from preschools to colleges and from altruistic young professionals to ambitious retirees. One of the many great joys of this job is that we get to meet people from every walk of life and connect to them over the love of trees.
All of this work hasn’t gone unnoticed. We were interviewed and mentioned in several articles in the T&G and Worcester Magazine this year as well as on the local access channel and Senator Chandler’s T.V. Show. We also received a number of recognitions and awards. First, was Alternatives’ Community Beacon Award for our work with a group of men, training them for employment in the landscaping field, and our participation on their community board. The second was Mass Audubon’s Audubon A, a prestigious award given each year to leaders in an environmental field. Our work in the ALB zone over the past 7 years earned us this recognition and we’re very grateful for it. Finally, we were invited to an appreciation breakfast hosted by the Vermont Maple Sugar Industry and Foresters Association in gratitude for everyone who has worked on the Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication effort. The genuine Maple Syrup was an especially sweet form of gratitude.
As I said at the beginning of this story, this has been a whirlwind year, every season brought a new project and we are thrilled with the work that has been accomplished this year. There will always be new horizons to explore in this work as the landscape transforms, but this year we have contributed to ensuring Worcester’s urban forest is healthy and that people throughout the city appreciate it and care for it. We are looking forward to writing the coming year’s story with you; see you soon and Happy New Year!