Home > Around Town > Friends of the Parks and the Fort Wayne Parks Department launch the 2005 Great tree Canopy Comeback

Friends of the Parks and the Fort Wayne Parks Department launch the 2005 Great tree Canopy Comeback

Volunteers needed to help plant 260 trees in five parks across town

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-10-31


Fort Wayne: City of Churches, All-American City…

Apparently, there’s a good reason why, say, “City of Trees” isn’t on that list. Not yet, at least. A Cultural Landscape Report commissioned by Friends of the Parks and the Cultural Landscape Committee of the Fort Wayne park board several years ago found that three of Fort Wayne’s major parks — Lakeside, Memorial, and Swinney — had lost nearly 50% of their tree canopy since 1949.

If there is good news here, it’s that the loss of the trees isn’t necessarily as sinister as it sounds. The trees didn’t die due to pollution or suburban sprawl or any of the other environmental hobgoblins we often hear about. “We lost a lot of the elms due to Dutch Elm Disease, but most of the loss was just due to age,” says James Christian, the Landscape Supervisor for Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. “Trees just have a natural life cycle.”

The bad news is that the Parks and Recreation Department hasn’t had the budget or resources to replant the trees as fast as we were losing them. “Part of it is funding, and part of it was… well, we put trees in every year, but it wasn’t a priority,” Christian says. “Park needs change over time. We’ve lost pavilions and other things, and as things were removed, they just weren’t replaced.”

One local organization decided to make it a priority. A non-profit, volunteer group called Friends of the Parks, working in cooperation with the Parks Department, launched the annual Great Tree Canopy Comeback Event. The 2005 edition takes place Saturday, November 5th at 10 AM. The goal: plant 260 trees in five area parks (Weisser, Tillman, McMillen, Kreager and Foster).

Volunteers are needed, but no tree-planting experience is necessary. Christian says the large holes needed for the 6’-8’ tall trees will be dug in advance by Parks and Recreation Department staff using their heavy equipment. All the tree-planting volunteers will have to do is position the trees, fill in the dirt, and rake it smooth with mulch.

Michelle Briggs-Wedaman, the Community Awareness Chairperson for Friends of the Park, says that on average, the Parks and Recreation Department is able to plant 200 trees per year. “Through this event, we’re more than doubling what they’re planting,” Wedaman-Briggs says. “That’s a number they (Parks & Recs) feel comfortable in maintaining.”

“That’s why the Great Tree Canopy Comeback is such a great event,” Wedaman-Briggs adds. “It’s something we can all get our heads around: the big, beautiful trees are going to fall someday, and we need to make sure we have trees coming up in the ranks.”

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. Briggs-Wedaman, explains that the group’s goals are part historic preservation, part environmental preservation, and part economic development. “As Fort Wayne and Allen County tries to reinvent itself, one of the things that’s so important is the overall issue of how you use your public lands,” says Briggs-Wedaman. “It’s one of those umbrella issues. When experts talk about the overall appeal of healthy cities, parklands, green space, and ‘walkability’ are at the top of the list. We’re only starting to hear dialogue about this in the public arena, and it’s so important.”

Indeed, current thought among experts in city planning says that parks aren’t just for recreation anymore, and trees and landscaping offer far more to a community than just their aesthetic benefits. Parklands and green space play a key role in issues such as water run-off and sewer treatment. Most importantly, they are integral to a city’s identity.

The Friends of the Parks wants to draw attention to all these issues, as well as the historic significance of our parks system. Believe it or not, Fort Wayne has an impressive legacy when it comes to park and public space layout. Our parks and boulevards system was designed by George Kessler (1862 - 1923), one of the foremost figures in city planning and landscape design. Rudisill Boulevard was one of the central corridors in Kessler’s system. He also had the concept for Headwaters Park, six decades or so before the city figured out that flood lands aren’t a good place to put things like buildings, and resurrected the park idea. “Kansas City puts its fountains and parks and boulevards as central to its identity,” Briggs-Wedaman says, citing Kessler’s most famous project. “Fort Wayne is a Kessler designed city. We’re not aware of it. We should be really proud of it. It’s an asset. It’s like this trump card we have, and we’re not playing it.”

And, of course, trees are beneficial on so many levels. “I don’t even know where to begin,” says James Christian when asked what he tells people when they ask why re-planting trees are important. “Part of it is ecological. Trees help with cooling, they filter out pollution, they help us with ground water issues. There’s so many answers to that. I guess the real question is ‘why wouldn’t it be important’.”

4th annual Great Tree Canopy Comeback
Saturday, November 5, 2005, starting at 10am
Weisser, Tillman, McMillen, Kreager & Foster Parks in Fort Wayne
Volunteers are asked to sign up in advance. To volunteer (and/or find out more information on Friends of the Parks) visit www.yeaparks.com, or call Vincent Goins at (260) 436-9498 or via email at trees@yeaparks.com

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