Editorial: Tree by tree, Worcester is a better city

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If you’re looking for a different sort of volunteer opportunity this summer, you could “branch out.”

The Worcester Tree Initiative is growing its Stewards in the Streets program, which, naturally, is more about trees than streets. The program, partly funded by an Urban Challenge Grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, is looking for volunteers to try a bit of tree caretaking on a civic scale.

The Worcester Tree Initiative (WTI) will hold one of its two-hour Street Tree Inventory Workdays on Saturday, June 18.

Those interested in checking out Stewards in the Streets are invited to meet at 9 a.m. at the corner of Mayflower Circle and Burncoat Street. WTI staff will be on hand, and people will be partnered with experienced volunteers to gather information about the size, location, species and basic condition of street trees in that neighborhood, in the vicinity of Quinsigamond Community College.

Other Tree Inventory days are scheduled for July 17 and Aug. 13.

The idea of Stewards in the Streets is to help monitor and take care of public trees throughout Worcester, including the 5,000-plus streetside urban trees the initiative has helped the city plant over the last several years. Those younger trees, the organization says, need someone to water them their first two years, keep them properly mulched, and remove their supporting stakes after one year.

Volunteers take on the level of commitment they’re comfortable with, according to the WTI website. They can become Stewards for the street trees in front of their house, or a larger area. In addition, residents can elevate their skill level by attending pruning events and other WTI workshops and activities offered around the year.

Plenty of useful information is available at the website as well.

This is a seven-year-old, public-private partnership intent on healthy, abundant urban trees. WTI, funded largely by donations, operates with little fanfare. But all us of, whether we spend much time noticing or not, appreciate the results.

Shade, birdsong, quiet, air quality, privacy and beauty are offered up by every mature tree. The canopy standing around us is part of what gives a city a sense of welcome, forethought, stability and energy — or not, if trees are lacking or forgotten.

Luckily, Worcester has a long legacy as a relatively green city.

The Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) is still a serious threat here and in surrounding municipalities, with the pest still being detected occasionally in new trouble spots as well as old ones. The hardwood-attacking beetle was behind the founding of the nonprofit WTI in 2009, by then-Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, to address the massive tree removals the beetle caused and to organize the planting of replacements.

This summer, students in Clark University’s HERO program (Human-Environment Regional Observatory) will collect data on some of of the roughly 30,000 replacement trees planted since the ALB was first found in Worcester in 2008.

Last year a new problem, the emerald ash borer, arrived in the city as feared, adding to the fight.

Seedlings, shovels and patience are part of the battle plan for the Worcester Tree Initiative — and for its partners, similar organizations, environmental officials and individuals — in dealing with these emergencies. As residents in hard-hit neighborhoods such as Greendale see developing outside their doors, new plantings do take root and slowly grow in the wake of devastating tree takedowns.

ALB and the emerald ash borer are urgent issues requiring residents’ vigilance and cooperation.

But it isn’t all about beetles here.

WTI and its volunteers regularly tend to tree routines that could otherwise overwhelm city crews. The organization has a hand in parks and other public spaces around Worcester — and in teaching and encouraging people to understand and see to tree needs in their own yards and neighborhoods.

There’s tree news, too, in Green Hill Park.

Memorial Grove, the city’s living tribute to World War I veterans in the western part of the park, was once a place of lush peace. But time, disease, vandals and other troubles have taken a toll on the 380 or so maples planted long ago to honor Worcester servicemen and women killed in that war.

Last month, the Worcester Tree Initiative along with the Green Hill Park Coalition and volunteers from Worcester Technical High School, Job Corps, Alternatives Inc., WICN and others, planted 38 trees of various species in the grove.

It was the start of a two-year plan to replace 218 trees, in time for Nov. 11, 2018, the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.

We all have our own trees that serve as constants to our experiences. They stand outside our window, or fill other familiar spots. We salute the Worcester Tree Initiative and all those who, usually laboring in obscurity, help create and keep the canopy we wrongly take for granted.

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