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Staking a claim: City looks to manage forest of tree plans

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford A Tree For Thee has planted more than 100 trees at Point Gratiot but city officials want the organization to stop for now.

The forest of well-intentioned folks who seek to plant trees in Dunkirk’s parks needs a little more management, according to City Hall officials.

It was announced at a Common Council meeting last week that A Tree For Thee is not supposed to plant any more trees at Point Gratiot Park.The group is one of two community organizations, along with Revitalize Dunkirk, trying to replace forest cover in Dunkirk’s parks that got removed when the emerald ash borer killed trees.

According to the city, a recent $66,500 grant from the state means that only state-approved trees can be added to Point Gratiot for now. A Tree For Thee has already planted more than 100 trees at the Point.

Mike Przybycien, deputy Department of Public Works director, explained during a workshop session that city officials applied for the grant before A Tree For Thee was approved.

Calling the organization “fantastic,” he said, “I’m suggesting we stop planting (their trees) at Point Gratiot, we focus the remainder of the trees at Wright Park.

We’re going to work with the (state Department of Environmental Conservation) on satisfying that grant at Point Gratiot.”

Vince DeJoy, city planning and development director, said 150 trees are to be planted “at specific locations of the Point that have to do with soil conditions, wind conditions, shoreline and so forth. And we do have a tree planting plan.”

Przybycien said, “I’m more than confident we can keep everyone happy. We just need a little time.”

Mayor Kate Wdowiasz stated that “A Tree for Thee was given the option to plant in (both parks). It was our understanding at the time that it was not going to be specific to one park or the other. We were anticipating, in all fairness, 60 trees, not 210 trees, and I don’t know that was even communicated to us until the first planting occurred.”

A Tree For Thee’s program pairs memorial plaques with individual trees. Wdowiasz offered to put plaques on city-planted trees at Point Gratiot as a compromise.

“I’ve asked Mrs. (Mary Louise) McGraw and her organization to please give us a minute,” the mayor said. “It’s a great program and I’m glad it exploded the way it did, but we really need our community partners to work with us.”

During the meeting, McGraw said, “We did our first planting May 2. We put 82 in the ground in four hours. The parks’ guys were Energizer bunnies. The volunteers that came with us were amazing… Our second plant was May 6 and we put our 26 trees in Wright Park. So they’re all done, that’s buttoned up — and then we came back to the Point and put 41 trees there.”

McGraw would like the focus of the trees from her organization to be at the Point and went on to reiterate that.

“Our third plant, hopefully, will be sometime soon. We have 68 trees left for the Point,” she said. “We want to plant along the shoreline, behind the park benches, along park drive and along the bike path walkway.”

A Tree for Thee took applications for 212 trees and the city is getting $43,000 worth of new trees. “No taxpayer money, it is the community — and this is exactly what we wanted, “ McGraw said. “People stepped up. They want this.”

Steve Rees of Revitalize Dunkirk took the microphone and thanked McGraw for her project. He then talked about that group’s own tree plans.

He said an ad hoc reforestation committee has “completed what we intended to do with the trees that have been placed in Point Gratiot. There is, however, an ongoing concern we have related to ongoing maintenance.”

Rees said his committee was assured that city parks workers would water the trees as necessary, but “we learned today, unfortunately, that watering has not commenced of these trees we put in the ground and there is little likelihood that will occur anytime soon, because of lack of employees to drive the (vehicle) with the water tank that we had been assured would take care of that.”

He went on to complain that elderly volunteers would now have to go in “dragging a hose, dragging cat litter jugs” to water the trees.

Department of Public Works Director Randy Woodbury noted the city is currently hiring seasonal summer workers. One of their duties will be plant watering.

Wdowiasz said later, “We have asked A Tree for Thee to pause their plantings inside Point Gratiot so that we can find out what our (grant) requirements are and we have advised them they can plant their remaining 68 trees in Wright Park… because unfortunately, the tree grant we have received is specifically geared toward Point Gratiot.”

The saga of Dunkirk’s tree plantings saw its leaves rustled again at a Department of Public Works Committee meeting last week.

Cassie Pinkoski, a grant specialist with the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District, was asked to attend and offer guidance by committee chairperson Nancy Nichols. Pinkoski repeated the mayor’s suggestion that A Tree For Thee plaques could go with trees planted at the Point under the latest grant.

Councilmember Nichols asked Pinkoski if both the grant trees and A Tree For Thee’s remaining 68 saplings could go in at Point Gratiot. “I can’t for sure say,” replied Pinkoski — but she also noted “It’s still a park” intended to have some open space, and warned against overplanting.

“I don’t quite understand what the problem is,” said the feisty McGraw, whose agitation prompted Przybycien to remark, “You seem like you’re angry.”

“There is plenty of room” in the park for her group’s 68 remaining trees, McGraw stated. However, Pinkoski warned, “Put them too close together and you will shade them out. … It might look like you can fit a lot of trees in there but you really have to imagine them full-size.” She again mentioned that Point Gratiot is supposed to be a “park-like setting” that includes some open space.

“We have fulfilled what I think is the recipe. I just can’t see how you can’t find room,” McGraw said.

Nichols remarked, “How do we get these 68 trees in the ground? That’s all I wanna know.”

McGraw complained that A Tree For Thee’s initial April 26 planting session was canceled by the city and if it had happened, all of its trees would be in the ground now.

“I keep hearing the word roadblocks. It’s operational roadblocks, it’s time constraints,” Przybycien said. “If (the saplings) sit in a nursery for a month, nothing’s going to happen to them.”

He said to McGraw, “I know you’ll be unhappy unless the trees are in the ground today.”

Przybycien advocated meeting with DEC officials to get full details of their grant, a course of action backed by the Dunkirk officials at the meeting.

He ended the meeting in a long conversation with McGraw which stretched on as others left the room.

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