In a forest, a tree can live for more than 100 years. But space-deprived and stressed trees in cities and suburbs may survive for only 15 years unless they receive special attention. Trained volunteers can help.
In Chicago, that help often comes from Openlands TreeKeepers™, a corps of volunteers who care for public trees, keeping them healthy and administering proper care. Now, the group is expanding its outreach to the suburbs and has partnered with The Morton Arboretum to offer an eight-week TreeKeeper training course this fall.
TreeKeepers commit to volunteering 24 hours during their first year to taking care of trees, working in collaboration with local park districts, forest preserves and forestry departments. Their responsibilities include planting and mulching trees, taking inventories of trees in parks, pruning and monitoring public trees, and battling invasive species.
As the western suburbs face the devastation of the emerald ash borer, the new TreeKeepers could play a vital role in planting and maintaining the new trees that will take the place of the infested ash trees, according to Beth Corrigan, Community Trees program coordinator at The Morton Arboretum. “This volunteer workforce will be able to augment local forestry staffs at a time when many of our municipal foresters have been facing budget cuts and a reduction in staffing.”
TreeKeeper classes at The Morton Arboretum take place on Saturday mornings from September 14 through November 2. Trainees must attend a series of eight three-hour classes, during which they will learn the biology of trees, how to identify tree species, and how to monitor for insects and diseases. They will also take part in in hands-on demonstrations for tree pruning and care.
To graduate from the program, TreeKeepers will need to pass a written test as well as demonstrate their hands-on skills in tree planting, pruning and mulching. At graduation, the newly appointed TreeKeepers will meet with municipal foresters from their own hometowns to discuss how they can work together.
This new TreeKeeper course is filling a need in the western suburbs, says Megan Dunning, manager of community education and outreach at the Arboretum. “TreeKeepers help ensure that there will be trees in your neighborhood in the future, and that our communities have healthy urban forests.”
Registration is now open at mortonarb.org/education. Participants 16 years old and under must be accompanied by an adult registrant. The course costs $128 for members and $150 for nonmembers. Needs-based scholarships are available.
Over the past 23 years, more than 1,500 Openlands TreeKeepers have been trained and deployed in the City of Chicago and Cook County. Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens.
TreeKeepers courses will also be offered in Evanston, IL, as part of the expansion by Openlands.