Rebuilding Worcester’s Urban Forest
Get to know the mission
Grow the forest
The foremost thing is to reconcile the urban with the natural. That’s the vision of the Tree Initiative. Our roots lie in recovery, but our mission goes far beyond replanting the neighborhoods that lost trees to the Asian Longhorned Beetle. Our mission is to make Worcester’s urban forest better than it was before the beetle, because cities need forests, not just to be surrounded by forests, but to be forest-like themselves. They need forests because people need forests. Forests are a better investment than most, they’re good for physical and emotional health, they promote social welfare, they help the economy, and they keep out water and air clean. Cities are where people live, but people can’t live well without the forest. So we continue to plant trees, seeking out the places where they are most needed.
To learn more about the benefits of trees to people, places, and our world check out our Benefits of Trees page.
Teach the people
While reconciling the urban environment with the natural environment it is essential to reconcile urban people with the natural environment. Part of Worcester Tree Initiative’s mission to Rebuild Worcester’s Urban Forest is to ensure that a large, diverse group of people will continue to care for the forest. WTI’s programs have a focus on education, stewardship and advocacy in Worcester and surrounding towns with an emphasis on environmental justice and youth. Our goals are to recruit and train hundreds of volunteer “neighborhood tree stewards” who will help maintain the public street trees; to educate the general public, especially school children, about the numerous benefits of trees thereby stimulating a love and respect for trees and nature; and to plant hundreds of trees each year, including shade, ornamental, evergreen, and fruit trees, on both public and private property, thereby ensuring sustainability of the urban forest of Worcester. Through all of our programs, we provide educational and skills building workshops, networking opportunities for residents interested in tree care, and opportunities for various levels of certification.
Get to know the story
Mayflower Circle after all of its trees were removed. Winter 2009
Mayflower Circle, Spring 2011
Worcester Tree Initiative founders Congressman James P. McGovern and Timothy Murray with Steering Committee Co-Chair Mary Knittle standing in front of the 30,000th tree, planted at Burncoat High School in 2014.
Worcester Tree Initiative was formed in January 2009 by Congressman James P. McGovern and former Lt. Governor Tim Murray after officials anticipated that tens of thousands of trees would be removed because of an infestation of the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle. Knowing from experience on the campaign trail that Worcester residents highly value their trees these State leaders and Worcester residents took immediate action in the face of the imminent crisis to create a route to recovery from the loss, Worcester Tree Initiative.
After the first round of removals more than 30,000 trees in Worcester, Holden, Boylston, West Boylston, and Shrewsbury were lost from people’s streets, yards, and parks. Additionally more than 100 acres of forest had all host species removed; in some places this was nearly all of the trees. With this devastation in mind Worcester Tree Initiative set an initial goal of overseeing the planting of 30,000 trees in five years.
Invitations & Integrations
Our plan for accomplishing this goal of planting 30,000 trees in 5 years started with a simple concept; we would give trees away to residents of all the affected towns. At these giveaways we would bring a hundred or more trees to various locations in Worcester and the surrounding towns and invite people to come and take one home with them after participating in our tree planting training session. We did this several times each spring and fall every year until 2014. In addition the city planted trees season after season, and in 2012 the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation stepped in with a reforestation program that planted 15,000 trees in just a few years. By integrating all of these efforts toward the common goal of planting trees in Worcester we were able to complete the goal of seeing 30,000 trees planted in Worcester and surrounding towns in October of 2014.
In the midst of this planting effort we also saw that there was a need for care in the newly planted trees in the city. Newly planted trees need to be watered frequently for the first two years after planting to help them to get established. Knowing this in 2011 we started the Young Adult Foresters (YAF) program. We hired at risk youth, rented a truck, and put the Forestry department’s water tank in the back and they spent their summer watering newly planted trees throughout Worcester. We still run our YAF program each summer thanks to the consistent support of Massport, to whom we are immensely grateful. The program has developed and formed new partnerships every year since its outset and became the impetus for our current Stewards in the Streets urban tree care program.
Get to know us
Ruth Seward, Executive Director
Ruth came to Worcester Tree Initiative early on as a Program Coordinator. Her primary responsibility was to coordinated the giveaway program and her hands on approach had her interacting with every tree recipient through personal emails and phone calls to ensure that everyone got their trees. She was also single handedly responsible for coordinating planting programs with more than 50 schools in her first couple of years here.
In 2015 she took on the role of Executive Director, taking on the mantle of Peggy Middaugh who had been at the helm since 2009. In this position she has continued to develop the extensive network of partners that help our organization to establish deep roots in this city. She also has started the Stewards in the Streets volunteer program, working closely with the city to get permission to prune young street trees and surveying them to map and assess street trees throughout Worcester.
Ruth is also a dedicated wife and mother of three. She prioritizes her family life and has found happy balance between work and play.
Derek Lirange, Community Forester
Derek began working at WTI days after completing his Bachelors Degree in Urban and Community Forestry in 2013. He started as an assistant to Ruth in coordinating giveaways but his responsibilities grew quickly into assistant educator, volunteer workday supervisor, website manager, newsletter writer, and graphic designer.
As the Community Forester Derek’s primary role is to work with WTI’s partners coordinating tree plantings, education programs, and workdays. It’s a beautiful intersection of working with people and working with trees in the city.
Derek also works at The Journey Community Church as the Youth Group Director and tries to complete DIY home improvement projects on his house.
Other Staff and Interns
We have been incredibly fortunate to work with a whole host of wonderful people in our office through the years. Some stay for the summer, others a semester, a year, and sometimes even longer. We owe a lot to these people; they have been our tree trackers, supervisors, tree waterers, office managers, and helpers. We wish you all the best as you pursue your dreams.
If you would like to learn more about opportunities to serve with Worcester Tree Initiative please visit our Get Involved page and get in contact with us.