Volunteer program helps municipalities and serves communities

Klaus Schreiber, left, Lynchburg city urban forester, directs Tree Stewards Adrian Gagesteyn, forefront with saw, and Herman Schenkel, pruning the tree, on proper city street tree pruning.

City municipalities can benefit from a tree steward program—and the trained volunteers gain from the experience, too. “Those involved in the tree steward program achieve great satisfaction in learning more about trees and in applying their knowledge while caring for our city’s trees,” says Marge Denham, coordinator of the Tree Stewards of the Greater Lynchburg Area in Lynchburg, Va.

Lynchburg tree stewards

About 40 people have gone through the Tree Stewards of the Greater Lynchburg Area program, now in its 12th year. They go through 30 hours of classroom instruction and learn about the biology and anatomy of trees, proper planting and pruning techniques, pests and diseases that affect trees and the selection of the best tree for the right place. Campbell County, Va., resident Robert Fairchild took the class several years ago to learn how to prune his apple, plum and peach trees.

“I took the class and learned a lot more than just how to prune,” he says. “I got involved in what they were doing as a service for the city. It’s very rewarding when you go and do the work. You’re accomplishing something that’s valuable for the environment and for nature. Trees provide oxygen, cooling and shade, and it’s stabilizing the soil.”

A volunteer from the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards demonstrates proper pruning techniques during a public seminar.

Two years ago, when Margi Vaughn and her husband, Rob, moved from Charlottesville to Lynchburg, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “I was shocked and surprised with happiness at the absolutely beautiful trees in the town,” she says.

A master gardener in Charlottesville and a person with a real soft spot for trees, Vaughn could easily appreciate the hard work that tree stewards performed in Lynchburg. So much so, that she enrolled in the tree steward course last year.

“It has helped me solidify the knowledge I came with,” she says.

Expanding her knowledge, Vaughn quickly learned the damage that ice storms can impose, especially for the power company, if the street trees are not properly maintained and pruned throughout the year.

Professionals and volunteers such as arborists, college professors, extension agents and other tree stewards teach the classes that volunteers such as Fairchild and Vaughn have attended.

Klaus Schreiber, Lynchburg city urban forester, spends three to five hours per month with the volunteers in meetings or doing activities. He says in 2006, the Tree Stewards of the Greater Lynchburg Area pruned 851 trees and planted 39 trees, all involving more than 1,000 hours of service. He sees the service as invaluable to public education and awareness.

“They make sure the city leadership understands the importance of the urban forest and the citizen support for tree planting and care,” Schreiber says. “Most of the pruning work that they do is very detail-oriented work and would better be described as tree training. This type of work is not done by our contractor and would likely go undone if not for the tree stewards.”

Denham says that in 2006, the tree steward volunteers performed monthly pruning, planted trees in the spring and fall, assisted in planning and conducting the annual Arbor Day celebration, planted several trees as memorials for deceased citizens and sponsored an apple tree grafting workshop. They also helped a local art center apply for a grant to plant trees and provided volunteers to help plant them, and helped a local elementary school develop and plant a wetland on the school property.

The Lynchburg tree stewards use tree guards and larger mulch beds around young trees, so the trees are protected against lawn mower and string trimmer damage, Denham says. This practice has reduced the mortality rate of city street trees by 50 percent. They also encourage the use of chipped wood products to protect the trees from root damage. This enlarges the mulch beds in the parks and along highways and has saved space in the city landfill, Denham says.

Front Royal tree stewards

The Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards program in Virginia began in 1997.

In 2006,  26 active certified tree stewards contributed 2,074 hours of service to Front Royal and Warren County. The Front Royal program’s president, Herb Rinehart, says seven educational programs for the community were supported by these hours, as well as hands-on tree care.

To become a certified tree steward in the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards program, a person must complete the training course developed by Trees Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., and do a minimum of 25 volunteer hours of service each year. Rinehart says 75 people have completed the course and many have gone on to become tree stewards.

“The group is proud to be a partner with the town of Front Royal in helping it to be designated for seven consecutive years a Tree City USA community by the National Arbor Day Foundation,” Rinehart says.

Michael Kenyon, a former certified arborist for the Davey Tree Expert Co. in New York, served for several years as a tree steward in the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards. He says the group helped form the Urban Forest Advisory Commission (Tree Board), which is a requirement for Tree City USA. The tree board serves as an advisory committee to the town council and provides recommendations related to public tree issues. Some of the commission members are tree stewards, and Kenyon has served as chairman of the board for several years.

As a former certified arborist, “I guess I never lost my passion for trees and their proper care,” Kenyon says of his long service to the volunteer group. “Once the first class graduated, I became the president and served many years in that capacity. Now, I am more of a behind-the-scenes support person, write many of the newspaper articles and participate in many of the pruning projects.”

Kenyon stays active in the group because of the issues concerning tree topping and the selection of professional tree care companies.

“Many more people in this area, some tree care companies included, know more about tree care than they did 10 years ago because of this group,” he says. Kenyon adds that the volunteers have taken the workload off of the town horticulturist.

He also persuades youngsters to learn more about tree care. “We already have written and performed a play for grade school children on tree topping and its dangers,” Kenyon says. “We now also have two years under our belt holding a class called ‘Trees are Cool’ for many different ages of children.

“Children are our future,” he adds, “and if we can provide the knowledge at a younger age, they will develop a much better attitude toward tree care when they become homeowners later in life.”

Some of the tree stewards’ educational activities involve holding annual classes for children and adults, writing columns in local newspapers and setting up a booth at local town festivals.

The Web site of the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards, www.treesfrontroyal.org, provides helpful information about:

• Reasons to hire an arborist

• Tree care best practices

• How to properly trim trees

• How to become involved in tree stewards

• Ways trees are killed

• Location of oak trees in Front Royal

• Links to other tree care associated sites

• Calendar of events.

State program

The Tree Stewards of the Greater Lynchburg Area and the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards are part of the Virginia tree steward program sponsored by Trees Virginia (Virginia Urban Forest Council). The council budgets about $7,500 annually to support the council’s tree steward program, says Paul Revell, urban and community forestry coordinator with the Virginia Department of Forestry in Charlottesville. Some of those funds go to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, which also operates a model of the tree steward program.

Revell administers the funds that support Trees Virginia and talks up the tree steward program with interested parties in other states. “Trees Virginia is currently the only funding source for this program,” he says, “but some funding in the past has come through urban and community forestry grants that are administered by the Virginia Department of Forestry.”

Besides Lynchburg and Front Royal, a Virginia tree steward program is in place in the Albemarle and Charlottesville area.

The Alexandria/Arlington area tree stewards are taught by cooperative extension using Trees Virginia training materials, Revell says. The Virginia Beach and Chesapeake area supports a tree steward program as part of several master gardener groups.

Future plans

As part of an educational project, a volunteer in the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards teaches children how to properly plant trees and how to take care of them.

“We intend to continue our regular pruning and planting events, assisting with the Arbor Day programs and conducting workshops as we see needed,” Denham says. “We also look for opportunities to assist organizations in planting trees.”

Growth of the Trees Virginia and extension tree steward programs rests with localities and the interests by the public. “I would like to see both programs expand, and Trees Virginia will be devoting some energy to that effort in 2007,” Revell says. “These groups can be invaluable to their communities in the number of volunteer hours that they can devote to caring for public trees and providing information on tree-related issues. I would like to see the Trees Virginia and Cooperative Extension groups work more closely together and do joint trainings as well.”

In Front Royal and Warren County, Rinehart says local tree stewards will continue to develop an arboretum and the Greenway development project. They will work on a Christmas parade float with the theme “Plant a Memory, Save a Tree.”

The Trees Virginia program continues to plant memories and save trees through the dedicated service of community volunteers known as tree stewards.

The author is a freelance writer in Danville, Va.

Tree Steward Contacts

To learn more about Virginia tree steward programs, contact:

Trees Virginia
Paul Revell
Virginia Department of Forestry
Suite 800
Charlottesville, Va. 22903

Virginia Urban Forest Council
Sandra Wilson, tree steward coordinator for Trees Virginia
Front Royal, Va. 22630

Tree Stewards of the Greater Lynchburg Area
Marge Denham, coordinator
Lynchburg, Va. 24503

Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards
Herb Rinehart, president
Front Royal, Va. 22630

Peter Warren, extension agent, horticulture
460 Stagecoach Road
Charlottesville, Va. 22902

Virginia Beach
Pat Stallings
Virginia Beach, Va. 23451

Joanne Hutton
Virginia Cooperative Extension
3308 South Stafford St.
Arlington, Va. 22206