Saturday, March 1, 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

Some of our citizens lost their favorite tree this week. The grand old oak at the corner of Main and Broad had few equals in our city. Dwarfed only by water towers and the AT&T tower, it had touched the sky in the center of our city for decades.

Ten years ago, when the first big limbs fell from the tree, we knew it was only a matter of time before the tree reached the end of its life. Two weeks ago, when an enormous limb fell crashing from the tree on a windless clear day, the city took steps to have a professional asses the tree’s condition. The severe cracks that now ran through the tree, and the weakened branches and trunk that had slowly become hollow over the past few years meant that a big piece of the tree could let go at any minute. If that piece feel on a pedestrian, a person attending an event, or your passing car, then the results would have been disastrous. We took action, because we knew that the tree could hurt you or a member of your family if it were to fail.

Trees have a large positive impact on our community. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, trees can be a stimulus to economic development by attracting new business and tourism. The foundation goes on to point out that commercial retail areas with trees are more attractive to shoppers, landscaping can help apartments rent more quickly, business and residential tenants stay longer, and the value of space in a tree lined area is higher. Look to downtown Greenville as an example. The landscaping and the trees make the area more inviting, and the City of Greenville will credit the environment as a key component of their central business district’s success.

Trees have a big impact on your neighborhood too.  The United States Forest Service reports that trees can add 10% to your property values, and if you add some other landscaping to go with that tree then you can see the property values increase by 20%. Tree lined streets not only enhance property values, but they enhance community health by removing pollutants and carbon dioxide from the air. That tree in your backyard can even help reduce your stress levels. According to a study from Texas A&M University, people who were exposed to tree settings recovered form stressful events faster.

Your publicly owned electric utility is impacted by trees. First, trees planted correctly around your house can reduce your energy bill in the summertime by anywhere from 3% to 30% depending on the size of the tree and your home’s condition. However, when a tree is planted too close to a power line, the City has to spend time and money trimming the tree to keep it from impacting your electric service. A tree limb weighted down by ice or leaves can hit an electric line and cause and outage. In fact, in Clinton the leading causes of electric outages that last longer than five minutes are tree related.

Trees, like all living things, require care. If you have a tree on your property, then it is your responsibility to maintain it and make sure that is structurally sound and does not pose a threat to neighbors or people using public sidewalks and streets near your home. When you a plant a tree, be sure to make sure that you call 811 and have your underground utilities located to make sure that your tree’s location will not impact any underground utilities. Also, be sure not to plant a tree that will grow too tall near a power line, because if the tree impacts the power line, the city will be required to trim it or may require you to remove the tree.

Trees have a significant benefit for cities. Studies have shown that people spend more time shopping and spend more money with business located on well landscaped streets. Trees in your neighborhood can go a long way to keeping your utility bills in check in the summertime, and trees improve the value of your property. However, for a long time we as a community have taken our trees for granted. It’s time for us to take a long hard look at planting more trees in our community and restoring tree lined neighborhood streets. It takes many years for a tree to reach a mature size, and while we are waiting for the tree you planted today to grow up, we are losing our city’s older trees to age, decay, and disease and an alarming rate.

I think everyone who lives in our city has a favorite tree. Maybe it’s the one in your backyard that shades your hammock in the summertime. It could be the one you planted with your kids many years ago. For me, it’s the small one at the corner of Broad Street and Calhoun that blooms bright every spring. It’s the first tree in town to wake up after the winter, and I have often thought of it as the one that leads the others out of their long winter slumber. This year our city will have one less tree this spring. Spring will come regardless, we will plant a new tree downtown, and I hope you plant a new one in your yard too.