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Shepherdstown named a Tree City USA

By Staff | Apr 27, 2015

Shepherdstown is home to many historic landmarks, small businesses and college students, but the town is also home to many trees-enough of them that the Arbor Day Foundation has named Shepherdstown a 2014 Tree City USA community.

The Tree City USA program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with the United States Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, that recognizes communities committed to urban forest management.

There are four requirements a community must meet to receive Tree City USA recognition: a tree board or department, a tree-care ordinance, an annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

Four members currently serve on Shepherdstown’s Tree Commission: chair and town council representative Lori Robertson; Frank Welch, director of Shepherdstown’s Public Works Department; Rebecca Drewry, the commission’s secretary and James Dillon, a local “tree expert” who operates a landscaping business.

One vacancy, open to a Shepherdstown resident, has yet to be filled.

Robertson said the town must have a certain percentage of tree canopy coverage to be recognized as a Tree City USA community, and the tree commission works to ensure that trees are replaced if they must be removed due to disease or damage.

“If we lose a tree on town property, we try to replace it with two or three more trees. (The tree commission) has no say over what residents do on their private property. Residents can remove a tree without asking the tree commission, but lots of people ask us anyway,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the tree commission has to care for and protect trees planted on town property while ensuring they do not hinder other town functions.

She said the tree canopy over some of the smaller sidestreets and alleyways tends to form a tunnel, but garbage trucks and other large vehicles must be able to drive under the canopy.

One of the goals of the tree commission is to maintain a certain aesthetic quality for the town’s trees, and Robertson said flowering trees are often planted for their beauty.

“We try to plant indigenous trees that bloom, but we steer clear of planting fragrant trees that attract bees or fruit trees that will drop fruit on the sidewalk,” Robertson said. “There’s a list of appropriate street trees that can handle pollution and exhaust, so if you wanted to plant a tree on a busy street, you’d know that tree can take it.”

Currently, the biggest threat to trees in and around Shepherdstown is the Emerald Ash Borer, which burrows into ash trees, often killing them from the inside out.

Welch said there have been efforts to count and evaluate trees infested with Emerald Ash Borers, but treating infested trees-provided the damage hasn’t progressed to far – is expensive.

“They looked at the ash trees in Morgan’s Grove Park and they looked at them here in town, too. We’re trying to get a count of what’s worth saving and what’s not and choose carefully, since treatment is really expensive,” Welch said.

Robertson said the tree commission’s budget, $20,000 for this year, comes from the town’s general operating fund.

Welch said if major tree maintenance is needed, the Tree City USA recognition is often helpful in obtaining grant monies.

According to Robertson, the second-largest threat to trees in Shepherdstown is storm damage, including freezes in winter and downed limbs from spring and summer thunderstorms.

Welch said he and the public works crew are often the first people to clear limbs and debris from streets after a storm, as long as it is safe for them to do so.

Robertson said crepe myrtle trees, which bloom in vivid, bright pink hues in the spring, don’t survive well in cold weather, and after two harsh winters in a row, may have to be replaced if they’re unhealthy.

Robertson and Welch said the tree commission is open to answering questions from Shepherdstown residents about the health and condition of trees on their property, and a form for submitting questions to the tree commission is available at the town hall.

“We get a lot of questions from residents, things like whether a vine growing up a tree trunk is harmful to the tree,” Robertson said.

“The residents here are not in favor of just cutting a tree down,” Welch added. “In fact, from what I’ve seen, people will do whatever they can to save a tree.”