Town Council: The State of Chestertown Trees

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Trees along High Street, Chestertown, MD

Chestertown is celebrating its 37th year as a “Tree City, USA,” an honor for which it received a banner at the annual Arbor Day commemoration last week. But what are all those trees good for? You might be surprised.

The CES did four community forest master plans in 2008 and 2009, followed by the tree inventory. The inventory data was collected by about a dozen volunteer teams, who took a 10 percent sample of the town. Gallegos pointed out that Mayor Chris Cerino was a member of one of the teams. He said the CES had proposed the survey to then-Mayor Margo Bailey, who gave it her enthusiastic support.

The purpose of the evaluation was to describe the town’s current tree population, to list benefits of street trees, and to make recommendations for managing the existing trees and for planting new trees.

The town’s tree cover at the time of the survey was 24 percent, Gallegos said. He said the CES team recommended bringing the total up to 40 percent. About 10 percent of the population at the time was made up of trees more than 24 inches in diameter, but the majority of the town’s trees were between 3 and 24 inches in diameter, he said. The largest trees in town were a sugar maple, a London plane tree and a pin oak. The largest conifer was an Eastern white pine. The most common medium-sized trees were juniper and red maple, with pear and cherry the most common ornamental species. Gallegos delivered a copy of the report to Town Clerk Jen Mulligan for the town’s files.

The report’s conclusions, Gallegos said, were that street trees provide environmental benefits that can be assessed in terms of dollar value to the town. Reduced energy costs amount to $31,280; carbon sequestration, almost $8,000; air quality improvement, $8,300; storm water management, $83,000; and esthetic benefits $103,000, adding up to a total annual benefit of $223,750, he said. The annual benefit per tree is $75.64; the per capita value is $44.10

Gallegos said there is an opportunity to increase tree cover to over 50 percent in town, given available sites, assuming a budget increase to undertake the project.

Carl Gallegos speaks at Chestertown council meeting. Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, and Council members Linda Kuiper and Liz Gross.
Councilwoman Liz Gross said the average across town reflects the difference in tree density in different areas. The historic district has a significantly greater cover than newer areas such as Coventry Farms, she said.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the Washington College athletic fields and Stepney Manor, which is currently being farmed, are two areas with a minimum of trees.

Gellegos said the inventory examined the different areas and took them into account. He said that Remembrance Park, the Washington College campus and the Gilchrest Rail Trail are “quite good.” He said the success of tree plantings on the campus was 100 percent, due to careful planting and maintenance. He said there had been some problems with plantings in Margo Bailey Park, with some species mislabeled.

Councilman Sam Shoge asked whose responsibility it is to maintain street trees planted by the town.

The trees, Gallegos said, remain town property. The general recommendation is to plant them close to the sidewalk or on the curb, he said. He said private landowners tend to have an “independent” attitude toward tree planting – “You can’t tell them what to do with their property.” He said any plantings to increase the tree cover would be up to the town.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the benefits Gallegos listed need to be balanced by the costs of the trees, such as their effect on power lines, the effect of roots on downtown sidewalks, damage caused by falling limbs and so forth. She said the recent wind storms had caused a lot of damage, at considerable cost to residents.

Gallegos said the utilities trim trees to reduce their effect on power lines, but “they butcher them.”

Kuiper also said residents complain about the smell and the fruit of ginko trees.

The ginkos, Gallegos said, are an imported species. The plan’s recommendation was to avoid imported species in favor of native trees, which are hardier. He expressed a hope that some of the older existing trees that are in poor health would be taken out and replaced.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said that many of the older downtown trees are London plane trees, which he said were planted “about 1938.” He said they would need to be replaced over the next five years. He said that the town had undertaken several plantings since the survey was completed, including 40 or 50 on the Kent County Middle School playground. “Every chance we get, we plant,” he said. He said mortality rates are a bit higher where the trees are harder to water, such as the middle of Bailey Park.

Ingersoll said Chestertown was at something at a disadvantage in raising its tree cover because of areas like shopping centers and farm fields where planting is difficult if not impossible. He said going back to indigenous species had improved the appearance of the town, thanks in part to the recommendations in the tree inventory. He said the town wouldn’t trim trees on private property.

Cerino said he would like to see the town fill in some of the areas with fewer trees. He thanked Gallegos for his presentation on behalf of the council.

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