SARATOGA SPRINGS – In honor of Arbor Day, Sustainable Saratoga held its Second Annual Tree Toga event on Saturday, April 25, training and leading volunteers in planting 25 large shade tree varieties around the city.
“I’d like to commend all the volunteers, not only this year, but last year, too,” said Anthony "Skip" Scirocco, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Works. “I’m glad the group keeps getting bigger. Hopefully it’ll catch on for future generations. I don’t mind supplying the trees – Tree Toga is a major benefit to the city.”
“It’s really exciting! Our goal is to plant large species trees in high profile areas with the intent that they will be here 100 years from now,” said volunteer Linda Whittle of Saratoga Springs. “The city would have to plant 500 trees a year to keep up with what’s being taken down due to development, but they can’t plant that many. Tree Toga and the Centennial Trees project will make a big difference.”
Sustainable Saratoga has also begun a Centennial Tree project with a goal of raising funds to plant 100 trees over the next three years in honor of the city’s 2015 Centennial. About 70 volunteers met on Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market area at High Rock Park to gather tools and trees and learn how to plant them. The trees for both projects include basswood, crab apples, oaks, tulip poplars, American elms and maples, among others. The trees were provided by the City of Saratoga Springs, and the planting project was funded by Sustainable Saratoga.
“We sent them out to 25 sites around the city,” said Tom Denny, point-person for the Tree Toga project and board member of Sustainable Saratoga. “We planted bare-root trees, which means the roots aren’t covered in heavy soil and wrapped in burlap. Without all the extra weight, we were able to plant trees that were about two inches in diameter and up to 14 feet tall. With that size, they already make a little bit of an impact, but they’ll be really something before you know it. They say one generation plants the trees and the next enjoys the shade.”
The Tree Toga effort began in a roundabout way. In 2008, some citizens reached out to the city of Saratoga Springs to encourage the city to seek a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a tree inventory and master plan.
“Well, the economy tanked, and the city was about to give up the grant because they couldn’t finish the inventory, so Sustainable Saratoga organized over 120 volunteers to inventory 5,600 trees for the city's DEC grant.” The grant was saved and Sustainable Saratoga’s Tree Toga effort began.
The nonprofit has a supportive, ongoing partnership with the city’s Department of Public Works for the Tree Toga program, which is dedicated to helping the City of Saratoga Springs with the annual planting of trees in line with the Master Plan. The city plants about 50-80 trees a year, and Tree Toga adds another 25-30 on top of that.
According to Denny, the city used to plant two tree species, one small ornamental and one large. “The new Master Plan recognizes that we need more diversity, so we’re including basswood and crab apples, for example,” said Denny.
The trees are planted in the City Right-of-Way (ROW), which refers to a tree lawn between a sidewalk and the curb. Tree planting sites were selected by Sustainable Saratoga in consultation with the City Arborist.
A 2012 City study revealed that Saratoga’s $120,000 tree budget returned annual benefits and savings to the community of over one million dollars. According to Sustainable Saratoga, trees are one of the most cost-effective parts of an urban infrastructure. Trees save energy, reduce air and water pollution, and store carbon that mitigates climate change. They increase property values and enhance the profitability of retail and restaurant businesses. Trees reduce healthcare costs, provide habitat and food for wildlife, and beautify the city.
Denny became involved with the inventory effort in 2011 with a small patch in his neighborhood. “Before I knew it, I was point-person for the Tree Toga project. It helps that I’m recently retired, so I have time to devote to this important work.” Denny retired from teaching music history at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. For more information about Sustainable Saratoga, please visit sustainablesaratoga.org.