Hundreds of volunteers will soon be planting thousands of trees along the streets and in the yards of Chestertown — so that this “Tree City USA” is more deserving of the appellation and every-sweaty-body gets a lot more shade.
The ambitious plan unveiled at the Town Council meeting on Monday night: to achieve an urban tree canopy of 40 percent over Chestertown, which means increasing the number of trees by 65 percent, which translates to expanding it from 3,090 to 5,090 trees within four years.
Work starts in weeks, thanks to grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and some 500 trees are being planted in the first year.
First focus is on sun-baked Wilmer Park, on wide-open Rolling Road parkland, at Queen and Cross Streets and boggy Horsey Lane swale. Three hundred trees are coming at these sites.
Another 200 trees will be planted on private property and to fill in voids along town streets. Mayor Margo Bailey announced that an incentive plan is being set up to let residents purchase two large young trees from the town’s native species list at a local nursery for the price of one.
New plantings will be tagged with GPS coordinates and added to the current map on file at Washington College’s laboratories.
The partnership between the town and the college’s Center for the Environment and Society (CES) puts a minimum of 100 tree-diggers on the ground, including students and faculty from the college, high school students and those in the mentoring program for disadvantaged youth run by Women in Need.
Briggs Cunningham, representing CES, told the council that a satellite survey from above, along with pedestrian surveys from the ground up, shows Chestertown has a long way to go to achieve its goal of a 40 percent tree canopy. That is what’s considered the minimum canopy to maintain a healthy urban environment.
Cunningham explained that Chestertown now has only a 25 percent canopy, which is less than any village counterpart in Kent County: Millington with 28, Rock Hall 29 and Betterton 35 percent.
And, Bailey conceded, quickly planting a lot more trees won’t instantly translate to much more canopy. It takes years for a tree to grow.
“The long-term plan is to attain a minimum 40 percent canopy cover within 10-15 years by planting 500 trees per year for the next four years,” according to the project abstract.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll noted that because of arboreal disease, the canopy is going to shrink more before it starts to increase. A number of big sycamores around Chestertown are dying and their removal starts soon.
To keep the new trees alive, the public works department recently renovated its watering trucks, and the council increased the tree maintenance budget by nearly $25,000 over the last several years.