Volunteers eager to get their hands dirty
By Michael Turton
Cold Spring’s extensive inventory of historic buildings is a major resource, perhaps one reason why people almost universally see the village not just as “quaint,” but as an attractive place to live or visit.
In recent months, another significant resource, often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, has come into focus. A group of community volunteers has begun a process, which over the long term, will conserve the aesthetic and monetary value of the resource in question, ensuring that it thrives for at least as long as the village’s historic buildings. That resource is the large inventory of trees growing on village-owned lands. And the group is the Tree Advisory Committee.
An inventory conducted in 2011 identified 437 publicly-owned trees in Cold Spring, most of which line the streets, providing shade, oxygen, beauty and numerous other benefits. It’s a village forest that boasts more than 40 species — from Red Maple, Black Locust and Zelkova to Pin Oak, Weeping Willow and Eastern Red Cedar. The total tree population has actually increased to about 500 since then, thanks to new plantings along Main Street and a fledgling nursery established on Kemble Avenue.
While the role trees play in beautifying the landscape is obvious, the economic value of urban trees is much less recognized. A recent survey of Cold Spring’s village-owned trees conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension estimated their value at $1.8 million. And that didn’t include the hundreds of trees found on private lands.
An interesting horticultural puzzle
Like any resource, trees have to be maintained, and stewardship of Cold Spring’s street trees in particular suffered a few years ago when an informal group of residents who had tended to them for years, was unable to continue the work. In November 2013, the Village Board advertised and recruited a new group of volunteers interested in advising trustees on how to best manage village trees. The Tree Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed early this year and now includes 11 members.
Jennifer Zwarich was one of the first residents to respond. Surprisingly, “tree hugger” is not how she describes herself. “I consider myself more of a realist than a romantic when it comes to growing things,” she said. “But … trees captured my imagination as a young child. I mean … who doesn’t love a tree?”
Later, it was the challenges faced by urban trees, “a really interesting horticultural puzzle,” that caught her attention. “Street trees are forced to survive in very difficult growing conditions,” she said. “They must adapt and thrive in a garden bed dominated by asphalt and concrete, dog urine, delivery trucks, overhead-wires, sewer pipes, heavy foot traffic and other challenges. They take such a beating, and yet, there they grow.”
It was no surprise that with that outlook and those interests, Zwarich volunteered to serve on the TAC, becoming its chairperson. Other TAC members include: Tony Bardes; Dana Bol; Kathleen Foley; Rich Franco; Charles Hustis III; Donald MacDonald; Kory Riesterer; Mary Saari; Richard Weissbrod and Village Trustee Stephanie Hawkins.
Bugs, overhead wires and ‘girdling’
“When I moved to Cold Spring in 2007 I was impressed with the number of trees planted on Main Street,” Zwarich told The Paper. “But I could see that many of them were struggling.” While Cold Spring’s trees have their share of struggles, she thinks that the village forest is “generally not in bad shape.” Many trees need pruning, including their roots, and overhead wires pose a problem. Decades ago when many of the trees were selected for planting, their eventual height and the conflict that would cause with overhead power lines, were not taken into consideration. Disease can also be a problem.
Two current situations point to the work that needs to be done. One is a beautiful Zelkova in front of Ming Moon restaurant on Main Street. It’s one of Zwarich’s favorites. “I’ve been watching it since I moved here. It isn’t very old, but it is one of the larger and nicer shaped trees on the street and it turns a stunning, bright red in the fall,” she said.
Zwarich said the tree probably appears healthy to most people, but it’s actually suffering from “girdling” or restricted roots that will eventually strangle and kill it. The tree’s canopy has begun to show signs of stress over the past couple of years. “A wider tree pit and some early root pruning could have prevented this situation,” Zwarich said, adding that the tree might still be saved if the damage can be mitigated.
Along Mountain Avenue, “lace bugs” have infested the London Plane trees that line the street. A hybrid of Sycamore, London Planes are an attractive species and a popular choice in urban settings. Left unchecked, lace bugs can cause a tree’s leaves to turn yellow and fall off. The fact that there are 140 species of lace bugs in North America illustrates the complex nature of urban forestry issues. The village is currently considering strategies for treating the trees in order to end the infestation.
What’s in a name?
Forming TAC was only the first step in what will now be an ongoing process to more effectively manage Cold Spring’s trees. A tree ordinance drafted by the committee is nearing approval by the Village Board. The group has also written the draft of a detailed, long-term Tree Management Plan. Ironically, TAC will soon be disbanded and, if approved by village trustees, replaced by a Tree Advisory Board or Commission, which will take up the work recommended in the plan.
While the name of the new group won’t affect its mission or function, Village Attorney Mike Liguori has recommended that the less regulatory-sounding “board” be adopted rather than “commission.” It would also bring the new group’s name in line with other village boards.
The naming issue may sound trivial however Zwarich can attest to the importance of perception — and misperception. When TAC was first formed there was a mistaken notion in some quarters that the new committee would have powers over trees located on private lands. Zwarich emphatically points out that TAC, and the group that will likely replace it, deal exclusively with trees located on village property, including streets and village parks.
In addition, she emphasized that the role of TAC and the yet-to-be-formed new group is strictly advisory. Ultimately, she said, all decisions regarding management of village-owned trees will continue to rest with elected trustees.
No shortage of key issues
Zwarich sees a number of key issues that the new Tree Advisory Board and ultimately the Village Board must deal with — not the least of which is creating a budget to get the work done. Fundraising will likely be an early priority with the new group. In addition some 54 percent of the village-owned trees in Cold Spring need pruning — one of the most basic tasks to keep trees healthy. That’s 233 trees. And she said enhancing the village forest requires “putting the right trees in the right place.”
That may include using salt-tolerant oaks along streets such as Chestnut — and not planting Red Maples close to waterlines where their water-seeking roots can cause major problems. “And we need to coordinate tree planting with other infrastructure projects — to minimize conflicts (such as) heaving sidewalks,” she said.
Getting to work
She may not consider herself a tree hugger, however the residents of Cold Spring’s urban forest are not complaining about the badly needed attention they’re getting from Zwarich and the members of TAC. And while she recognizes the importance of forming committees, drafting background documents and creating an organizational structure to ensure the long-term stewardship of village trees, Zwarich looks forward to the day when the planning is done and volunteers can get down to the real, physical work. “I can’t wait to get my hands dirty,” she said.
Photo by M. Turton