For the past several months, I’d been thinking about interviewing someone in City government about the trees that were planted along Cross Street as part of the recent $1 million streetscaping project. (I like trees.) For some reason, though, I’d kept putting it off until yesterday, when, in a fit of late night inspiration, I dashed off several questions to Ypsi City Planner, Teresa Gillotti. Well, I received her answers a few minutes ago, and I was just sitting here, thinking about how to introduce the subject of urban forestry, in a somewhat interesting way, when it occurred to me that it might be funny to say something like, “As Arbor Day is just four months off, I thought that I’d sit down with Teresa and ask her a few question about our local trees.” So, I got online, and did a quick search, in hopes of finding out how far away Arbor Day was. And, what I found was kind of eerie… Today, of all days, is actually Arbor Day in the state of Michigan… Cue Twilight Zone theme… (I wasn’t aware of it, but apparently every state celebrates Arbor Day at a different time. And, Michigan, it would seem, celebrates the holiday on the last Friday in April.) It’s a good thing that I’m not paranoid. If I were, I might think that, perhaps, I was being manipulated somehow by the trees that stare through my bedroom window at me each night, as site here, in my bed, working on this blog. (I’m tempted to google “trees control my thoughts,” but I’m afraid of what I might find.) Anyway, here’s my exchange with Teresa.
MARK: Can you tell me about the trees that were planted along Cross street earlier this year… how you chose the types, how many there are of each variety, and how we funded their planting?
TERESA: I don’t know much about tree selection – so I got help from local landscape architect Rachel Blistein, and a MDOT landscape architect out of Lansing, Jamie Nauta. We worked together on a list looking for salt-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties not necessarily commonly used in town, mainly to promote variety. Jamie worked out the placement of the trees, trying to be strategic so they wouldn’t block signage when they’re full grown in blocks with stores and restaurants, and providing larger species in the more residential areas.
We ended up with 4 types:
• Syringa Reticulata (Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac)
• Tilia Cordata (Greenspire Little Leaf Linden)
• Corylus Colurna (Turkish Filbert)
• Taxodium Distichum (Common Bald Cypress)
The entire streetscape project was funded with a transportation enhancement grant. It was a 60/40 split, with 60% of the funding coming from the federal government, and the 40% match coming from local sources. The Depot Town improvements (seatwall, stamped concrete crosswalks, rain gardens) had the 40% local match covered by the City and the DDA. The larger project was in West Cross – where the City and DDA had to provide only 20%, with MDOT covering the other 20% of the local match as it’s a trunk line west of Huron. That project included the bump outs, stamped crosswalks, the City’s first LED street lighting and 74 street trees.
MARK: And I believe, just a few days ago, volunteers got together to plant trees at what’s being called the Ypsi Tree Nursery. Those trees, as I understand it, are being planted at Water Street, and the intention is that they’ll be moved at some point to streets and parks around the City, right?
TERESA: Right. The project grew out of few things. First, DPS was looking to do an updated tree inventory and forestry plan, but didn’t have funding. We were looking at interim uses at Water Street to promote some minimal activity (the stone trail built from crushed concrete from the Water Street building demolition for example) to keep some life on the site, and to prevent it from being a literal dumping ground. We learned about a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant, and had the idea to ask for funding for the inventory, a forestry plan, and to set up a small tree nursery to grow street and park trees. The City doesn’t budget money for street tree replacement. It only happens from grants, like the Cross Street Streetscape, through DTE grants (every other year at best), and from residents adding them in themselves. So street tree replacement is down. We learned from the inventory that more than half of the City’s public trees or maturing or mature, so there’s a need to add to the stock.
So the volunteers were out last weekend along with Michigan Works youth/young adult program participants and we’ll be back this Saturday to plant the second half of the spring planting (total of 350). We’re planning on a similar number in the fall. So, we should have somewhere between 600-800 trees in the nursery by the end of the year.
MARK: Would I be right to assume that this work being done by volunteers is something that used to be done by the Public Works department?
TERESA: Yes. As I mentioned, they add trees when they obtain grants from DTE – and that’s around 30-40 during that year. I’m not sure what the previous levels were.
MARK: What’s the status of Ypsi’s tree stock? Are we making any progress getting rid of invasive species? Is there a master forestry plan of some kind? Are there big niches that need to be filled?
TERESA: Well – more than half of the public trees are some sort of maple (55.2%) and more than half are in fair condition (59%). There is a need for more diversity and for more young trees, to even out the average age in the City. And, thanks to this grant, we do have a new forestry plan.
I’m assuming that, with reference to the invasive species, you’re thinking more about things like tree of heaven and buckthorn growing in the parks? DPS trims a lot of this back, but I don’t think we have a specific strategy for combating this now.
MARK: We’ve talked on the site before about the guerrilla grafting movement, and the possibility of planting more fruit trees in Ypsi, in hopes that doing so might make us a little more self-sufficient, and encourage some folks, who otherwise might not do so, to eat better. As several people noted, however, fruit trees take some care, as rotting fruit attracts rodents and the like. I’m curious to know where you stand on this.
TERESA: I do like the idea of more fruit and nut trees, but I have to admit that I have little experience with them. As street trees, we have to consider whether the fruit might cause a hazard on sidewalks (smashed fruit can be slick, or sticky, or potentially clog drains). In parks, depending on the size of the fruit and nuts, it could also cause some serious wear on mowers. I’m sure there is a way to balance these issues. There are some fruit-bearing trees in the recommended street tree list as part of the forestry plan – but they are more in line with service berries, than something like crabapples.
MARK: I think people all know that trees are important, as they make the heat of summer less dangerous, clean our air, etc, but I’m wondering if there’s any research that would indicate that trees positively impact economic development. Are you aware of such studies?
TERESA: There are lots of studies about the benefits of street trees for all the reasons you mention. The Arbor Day Foundation has a bit of a hodge-podge collection of facts and figures with sources. There are lots of studies related to energy-savings, increase in property values (even vacant lots with trees have been shown to improve property values of neighboring properties). I definitely consider this project to be about economic development. There is the value of curb appeal in selling/buying properties, in attracting people to neighborhoods and business districts, and in increasing property values. The nursery is a way to try to cheaply grow our own stock for replacement so that with any potential changes in staffing levels, we can still provide new stock, either by having volunteers/neighbors using stock to plant on their streets, or incorporating this into the future streets projects, where contractors can have stock ready as part of any road project, for instance.
MARK: What non-volunteer resources do we currently have to deal with street trees? I’m thinking specifically about overly-mature trees around town that have dead and dying limbs hanging precariously over sidewalks and streets. Do we have the resources to deal with them?
TERESA: Yes. DPS does keep a budget to maintain (prune) and remove dead and dying trees. This spring they were able to catch up a bit, which you may have noticed. Without the snow they were able to focus on tree removals and pruning in parks and along streets. I noticed a lot myself in Riverside Park along the steps and in Peninsular Park as well. The DPS group seems to be doing a good job overall – one of their main measures is the number of downed branches after storms, and lately it’s been fairly minimal, which is good.
MARK: I conducted an Ypsi Exit Interview late last year with a fellow by the name of Casey Dixon. During the interview, he mentioned that there was an “evil tree” somewhere in Ypsilanti. Are you aware of this tree’s existence?
TERESA: I know not of the evil tree. But would like to see you produce a zine about it.
If you’ve been at all inspired by this interview, there’s an Ypsi Tree Nursery work day is this Saturday, April 29, from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. The location is the old Gilbert Park, at the rear of the Water Street site. To get there, take South Park Street to the dead end, go over the curb, and follow the orange cones west along the river to the planting site. More information can be found on Facebook… Also, we’re in need of a handful of stewards, who can keep an eye on the nursery going forward, making sure that the trees grow straight, and that none of them turn evil. If you’re interested, just send me your contact information and I’ll pass it along to Teresa.