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Q&A with Community Planting Leaders in Arden Park: Jane Hagedorn, Gregg Fishman, and Frank Moran

A NeighborWoods Story

November 4, 2016

Q: Why did you want to plant trees in your neighborhood through the NeighborWoods initiative?  What was it about trees specifically that motivated you to get involved?

Gregg: My interest in trees began in 1985 when I became a reporter for KFBK Radio. I was assigned to cover tree plantings with the Sacramento Tree Foundation—a relatively new organization at the time. I was surprised to see that there was an organization dedicated to the urban forest in Sacramento. Over the years, I covered many tree plantings and various milestones.

I was also interested to learn that the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) was supporting the Sacramento Tree Foundation’s efforts. They kept talking about a “conservation power plant” and that trees could help people use less energy in their homes and by conserving, we could all help reduce pollution.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working for SMUD as a public information officer. One of my tasks was to publicize SMUD’s partnership with the Sacramento Tree Foundation. The concept of a “conservation power plant” was old hat by then, but we had proven research that shows how trees help reduce air pollution, and manage storm-water runoff, and improve the ambiance of a neighborhood. And trees reduce the “urban heat island” effect—where the cityscape of concrete and asphalt hold in the heat from summer.

Jane: Because I love trees!

Arden Park is a very defined neighborhood. It’s been around for a long time. It has deep roots and people are passionate about living there. It was a community of trees – but mostly a monoculture of Ash. They initially worked quite nicely. But, after 60-70 years, they were starting to die, in large part because of the monoculture as disease spreads quickly. It was clear our neighborhood was in trouble. We had to replace over 3,000 street trees.

Frank: What happens is that Modesto Ash gets mistletoe, which kills the tree. The Modesto Ash lasted pretty long, and we still have a lot of them, but they’re dying quite rapidly.

Q: How exactly did you contribute to your NeighborWoods project? What was your role as a volunteer? What were some the successes and challenges your neighborhood experienced? Were you able to overcome those challenges together?

Gregg: In 2001, our neighborhood, Arden Park, began working with the Sacramento Tree Foundation to replant our front yard trees with several varieties that live longer. Each fall, we “market” the program through signs, a letter, our local Park District newsletter, and more recently through the online network known as Nextdoor.

We partner with the Tree Foundation. So, once we have 20-30 addresses where the residents are interested in new trees, the Foundation conducts site visits [with their Community Foresters] and helps each homeowner determine where to plant and what varieties of trees are best. On Arden Park Tree Day (one Sunday in the fall) families from the neighborhood and STF volunteers gather to help plant trees and spread mulch.

Jane: We all pitched in and recruited our neighbors to help. Was it easy? No. Sometimes it was really hard. This was all very informal too. We had no bylaws or official minutes at our meetings.

The soil in Arden Park is clay and hardpan, so digging holes is really hard. We quickly realized we needed a backhoe. We did have to do some fundraising to get it because backhoes are really expensive.

Frank would organize and lead the backhoe as it drove around to the different houses [where the trees would be planted] to dig the holes in those yards beforehand.

Q: What was the overall outcome of your NeighborWoods project? How many trees did you plant, how did people react, and how many people benefited from the project? Were there any benefits that you didn’t expect?

Jane: It’s such a great pleasure walking down the street in my neighborhood and seeing 2,000 new trees planted over 15 years of annual events. It makes me feel really good. It makes everyone feel really good.

Neighbors have become pretty used to the NeighborWoods plantings. It all seems like magic! Some Ash trees die and they get replaced. Everyone’s happy. Most people know about the plantings now.

There’re about 1,600 homes in our neighborhood, and a lot of them benefited. Most of the trees we planted have thrived and gotten pretty big. We focused on big trees, like Valley Oaks, too.

When you plant trees, wonderful things happen. Arden Park looks rejuvenated. What would have happened if 3,000 Ash trees died off and there was no effort to replace them? Knowing Arden Park is still a community of trees is very rewarding.

Gregg: While we have a long way to go before we replace all the Modesto Ash trees, we have a process in place to save the tree canopy that makes our neighborhood so great for walking, biking and other outdoor activities.

Our tree canopy provides many benefits—better air quality, reduced storm runoff, cooler summer temperatures, and reduced need for air conditioning. It also helps increase property values. So, there are a lot of reasons we keep planting trees. It’s good for the neighborhood, it’s good for the region, it’s good for my children, and it’s good for me personally too. I get to drive through the neighborhood and point out all the tree’s I’ve helped plant.

Frank: We planted 150 trees a year for first two years. That’s because people had the same interest in preserving our canopy. We just went from there. It’s getting a little harder now because most [residents of Arden Park] already have trees. Now we’re planting 30 a year.

I can identify all the trees I planted, including the one in my yard. They’re getting big! I have a Red Maple and a Modesto Ash.

Q: What advice would you have for other members of our community? What would you say to them to inspire them to lead or get involved in a NeighborWoods project in their neighborhood?

Jane: Get together with a small group of people that are committed to what you want to do. Some neighborhoods don’t have the same tree problems, but there are lots of neighborhoods with Ash trees that aren’t doing very well. You need to have a shared vision and you need to be okay with asking for help from your neighbors and the Tree Foundation.

We made signs, put announcements in newsletters, and talked to our neighbors to get people involved, but we weren’t reaching everyone. So, we recruited volunteers and visited every household in our neighborhood. We put hangers on doors that said “It looks like you could use a tree” or “Your tree is looking great” – and it worked. Now we write personal letters to everyone who has an Ash tree removed by the County.

Most importantly, JUST DO IT. If it rains, plant. If you don’t have a ton of people involved – that’s okay – just plant where people are initially interested. Even if you don’t meet all your goals, people will be happy because they planted trees. No matter what, you’ll benefit.

What I tell my kids is this: How do you get something done? Tackle it one bite at a time. We worked with some amazing volunteers, and it was clear to all of us that planting more trees would be good for Arden Park.

Just try walking down a street with trees and a street without. You’ll notice the difference.

Frank: You have to have a strong leader who isn’t bashful about asking people in their neighborhood to get the program going and support it. That’s key, I think.

We need to do a better job of recruiting volunteers from within our neighborhood too. Now that everyone has their own tree, the volunteers have dried up a little bit. We need to reinvigorate our volunteers. We’re working on it though.

Thank you again, Gregg and Jane, and best of luck with Arden Park’s next community planting on Sunday, November 6!