Street By Street, Tree By Tree

There was a time that our main streets were cathedrals; the elms were pillars that majestically lined our roads. The canopy of these imperial trees offered more than shade; it made our main streets feel like public spaces with a strong sense of place. Unfortunately, as these trees succumbed to the Dutch elm disease many of these streets lost this magical quality. What were once spaces to linger, streets became merely corridors. encouraging traffic to move through as efficiently as possible.

The devastation of the American elm provides a number of lessons. One thing learned from the loss of the elms is the understanding that planting a majority of one species is fraught with peril. One disease can decimate a large percentage of a community’s trees. Currently, the Emerald Ash Borer is the latest challenge that many Vermont communities will be facing. 

The iconic images of streets lined with elms reminds us of the importance of trees to our cities and villages. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, they provide environmental, economic and social benefits. They improve air and water quality, provide habitats for wildlife, raise property values and foster emotional well-being for members of a community. 

As one takes an evening stroll through the charming neighborhoods of Essex Junction, one can appreciate that the village has many of the elements that create a strong sense of place.

A forward-looking tree planting program that promotes a future in which our streets are lined and canopied with mature trees will only heighten this sense. The Essex Junction Tree Advisory Committee was created in 2014 to help shape this vision for the village. It has been committed to ensuring that the village reaps all the benefits of a robust tree planting and maintenance program.  In addition to expanding and maintaining a healthy urban forest, the committee's goal has been to engage the community in the stewardship, management and recognition of the Village's tree resources.

The Tree Advisory Committee’s first project was to partner with the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program to inventory the tree resources within the Village. In addition to looking at the condition of trees to determine tree care needs, the inventory also identified areas of planting opportunities. A portion of the Public Works budget has been earmarked to both maintain and enhance the Village tree community.  Given the advisory role for this yearly budget, the strategy of the committee has been to focus on enhancing the Village’s tree resources one street at a time. 

The right of ways of many streets in the Junction are relatively narrow for tree planting. As this might be perceived as a challenge, the committee has viewed this as an asset. One of the key missions of the committee is to engage and educate the community to foster tree stewardship, and this has provided an opportunity to partner with local property owners.  After surveying a particular street for tree planting opportunities, the committee contacts local property owners to see if they would be interested in having a tree planted on their property in proximity to the street. If property owners are interested, the Village pays for the tree and helps with the care of the tree for the first year. Beyond the first year, the property owners are given enough tree care information to allow them to confidently take care of their trees. Over the past few seasons the Tree Advisory Committee has partnered with property owners on Main Street, Pearl Street, Maple Street, and South Summit Street.

In addition to engaging local private property owners, it has been the goal to engage and educate the community at large. The committee created a self-guided tree walk at Maple Street Park. At the entrance to the park, participants can pick up a pamphlet that includes a tree walk map and information about all the diverse species of trees. If attention to our Village tree community will be sustained, it is critical to develop the land stewards of the future. Through Arbor Day events, the committee has engaged our young community members through tree plantings at our local schools and at Maple Street Park. At last year’s Arbor Day event, the committee partnered with the forestry program at the Center for Technology to plant several new trees in front of the high school. The committee has planted twenty trees a year on average and actively seeks new planting opportunities.

Over the past several years Essex Junction has demonstrated a renewed commitment to its tree resources and has become the sixth community in Vermont to earn Tree City USA recognition, a program sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Essex Junction is focused on the future.  While we can feel nostalgia for our streets lined with American elms, we have embraced an aesthetic that is more sustainable. As you walk through the streets of Essex Junction, appreciate the cacophonous richness of textures and colors that a diverse tree community offers. 

-Village Tree Advisory Committee