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Putting the green back in Allen County’s urban landscape

In 2010, the mission of the Great Tree Canopy Comeback is more urgent than ever

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


2010 will mark the 9th anniversary of the Great Tree Canopy Comeback, the annual event organized by Friends of the Park working in cooperation with the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department.

The Great Tree Canopy Comeback typically takes place in early November (this year, it happens Saturday, November 6), and asks volunteers to purchase and plant trees in local area parks. No tree planting experience is necessary — holes for the trees are dug beforehand. All volunteers have to do is position the trees, fill in the dirt, etc.

The event has proven very popular, with around 2500 people lending their time and efforts last year. “It’s become a wonderful social occasion,” says Michelle Briggs-Wedeman, a volunteer with Friends of the Parks and an organizer for the Great Tree Canopy Comeback. “We’re encouraging people to bring brown bag lunches and get together after the event.”

Formed in 2000, Friends of the Parks promotes the stewardship and celebration of the historic and recreational resources of the parks and public spaces of Fort Wayne and Allen County. The Great Tree Canopy Comeback was started the next year, with the goal of replanting trees lost in parks and public lands in the area.

Fort Wayne area parks have lost a great deal of their tree canopy in the last half-century; one report, about a decade old, put the estimate at nearly 50%. The good news is that much of that loss isn’t necessarily due to environmental factors — like any other living things, trees have a natural life cycle; they grow old and die.

The bad news is that for years, replacing the trees wasn’t a priority. Then, it became a matter of funding. Fort Wayne’s Parks & Recreation Department simply didn’t have the money in its budget to replace all of those trees, and can only plant a certain amount per year. Friends of the Park and the Great Tree Canopy Comeback were launched to take up the slack. “The private sector and individual residents have to take ownership of the trees and replant them,” says Briggs Wedaman. “We’ve drawn in New Haven and Allen County to work with Fort Wayne Parks Department. It’s a great collaboration, and to solve this problem, that’s how we have to look at it: as a community.”

The issue is just as pressing as ever, perhaps even more so. Troubled economic times have forced cities all over the country to tighten up their budgets, so there are even fewer resources available for replanting trees. And in Fort Wayne, there’s another problem — Briggs Wedaman says that it’s been estimated that in Fort Wayne’s streets alone — that’s not including the parks — about one in four trees is ash, and vulnerable to the emerald ash borer bug. “The ash trees,” as we all know, are dying,” she says. “The city doesn’t even have enough money to remove the trees, let alone replant them.”

Of course, trees are beautiful and nice to look at and uplifting to the spirit and all those other intangibles that are difficult sometimes to describe but are nevertheless very real. But if that isn’t reason enough, consider that a great deal of current theory in community revitalization and economic development stresses the importance that public space — green space, such as parks — plays in an area’s desirability. “Not only do trees create vibrant spaces for recreation, living and working, but trees shade us and reduce utility costs,” Briggs Wedaman says. “They clean the air and water and reduce city noise, improving our health and the vitality and real estate value of our city neighborhoods and commercial centers.”

She continues: “There are very compelling figures from some national studies that shows trees are very important to an area’s economic vitality, not just increased property values, but in the commercial sector as well. So funding a tree is money very, very well spent.”

One of the goals of the Great Tree Canopy Comeback is to simply get people to have a conversation about the importance of planting trees in their own neighborhoods and backyards. Each year, the event helps plant over 200 trees in area parks, but that’s just the beginning of what’s needed. “Planting trees is something that we can do to make an immediate difference in our neighborhoods and in our city,” says Briggs Wedaman. “It’s fun and easy and doesn’t cost a lot.”

The Great Tree Canopy Comeback
Saturday, November 6, starting at 10 AM.


TO VOLUNTEER — download a (PDF) registration form from www.fortwayneparks.org or contact Suzette Brown at (260) 422-3232.

To learn about getting your business or organization involved, or to help as an experienced tree planter Tree Captain, contact Michelle Briggs Wedaman at (260) 710-4413.

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