2016-04-28 / Opinion

Let’s be nice to our downtown trees

City will plant trees in honor of Arbor Day Reporter’s Reflections
By Dawn Timbs

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t get your Arbor Day cards sent out in time (I’m still working on Christmas); but, there’s still time to plant a tree.

According to a Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

I am so glad that the City of Staples takes to heart the message of Arbor Day, which is the planting and caring for of trees. This spring, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has plans to plant several trees throughout town, including in parks, along streets and in the downtown area.

Six years ago, as part of the 2010 Turnback Project in Staples, approximately 65 trees were planted along the downtown streets. They offered color and beauty right off the bat; and promises of a leafy canopy in years to come.

Sure, it would be a few years, but I had hope that one day downtown Staples would have the same visual appeal as other Central Minnesota small towns. In visiting places like Perham and Aitkin, one can’t help but notice the flourishing trees that add beauty and charm. I don’t know what came first in those towns...the trees or the thriving eclectic businesses, but it does seem to me that the two go hand in hand.

I am glad that our town’s officials saw the benefits to beautifying downtown Staples and that landscaping was a priority during the 2010 Turnback Project.

However, I was saddened to learn that some of the trees planted at that time have not survived. Some haven’t made it due to environmental reasons; but some of them died because of vandalism.

Apparently, there are some people who cannot suppress the urge to break off a branch or two as they pass by a young tree.

Shortly after the trees were planted, the Staples World received word from former Police Chief Kyle Huber that one of the trees on 2nd Ave. had been vandalized. The archived picture shows a tree with several branches broken off.

In addition to taking away from the town’s beauty, vandalism like this costs the taxpayers. Kevin Grondahl, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said that the original trees that were planted cost around $400 - $450 each. Some of the funding for this landscaping project came from the state.

Over the past year, 25 replacement trees have been (or will be) planted, each costing approximately $125.

The type of soil used during the initial planting may be partly to blame for the trees’ poor health. “For some reason, the trees did not survive in the engineered soils that they put in when the project was done,” Grondahl said, adding that when the public works department plants the new trees (maples or disease- resistent elms), they will be “replacing special soils with good old fashioned black dirt.”

Not all of the trees will be replaced. Grondahl said that there are a few places that the city deemed would be better off without a tree. These include near a handicapped parking spot; and in front of a couple of businesses.

The grates that previously surrounded these dead trees will be removed and the holes filled in with cement.

I’ve been told in so many words that broken off branches are probably to be expected when a tree is planted near a bar.

Although I can understand the city’s frustration and their desire to be good financial stewards, it saddens me that a few trouble makers have dictated the fate of some of the downtown trees.

I contacted Merle Meece, the Public Works Director in the City of Perham, to ask how they have managed to have so many healthy trees lining their downtown.

Meece said that the trees were planted in 1997, part of a street project that year.

Most of the trees are Ash, but a few were replaced with American Boulevard or

Boulevard Linden.

“As for vandalism, we have not had much of that,” Meece said. “I can only think of one tree that was broken off.”

He went on to say that all of the trees had metal guards (three - four ft.) around them for the first 10 years which helped protect them.

There is also an underground irrigation system in place to water the trees, “which is a must with the sandy soil we have,” Meece said.

Grondahl knows all too well the importance of keeping the trees watered and it is a priority for the public works department.

He’s hoping that others will do their part to ensure that our downtown trees will be allowed to flourish. “Be kind to the trees,” Grondahl said. “If you feel a branch is in the way, call the city offices and we will look into pruning the branch at the appropriate time. If possible, give your tree a drink.”

On this Arbor Day, let’s vow to be kind to our downtown trees. I believe they have the potential to help transform Staples in so many ways.

As the 19th-century minister and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher once said, “No town can fail of beauty, though its walks were gutters and its houses hovels, if venerable trees make magnificent colonnades along its streets.”

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