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TreeKeepers Help Local Community In The Wake Of Emerald Ash Borer

A man and woman plant a tree
July 28, 2015

Hopeful young oaks and hackberries are taking root in the Lincoln Hill subdivision in unincorporated Milton Township south of Glen Ellyn. They’re a sign of progress, made with help from The Morton Arboretum, toward recovery from the scourge of the emerald ash borer.

The new trees are under the watchful eye of The Morton Arbretum TreeKeepers, urban forestry volunteers trained at the Arboretum. They’re making monthly visits to check on the trees’ progress and advise residents on watering and tree care. In September, a new class of TreeKeepers will begin to train more volunteers.

The Lincoln Hill story began in the spring of 2014, when residents, heartsick at the loss of about 100 mature ash trees along their streets, learned that Milton Township didn’t plan to replace them. The township owns the parkways and easements along the streets, as is typical in unincorporated communities. But like many local governments, the township is struggling just to keep up with removing dead ashes, much less planting new trees.

The Lincoln Hill Homeowners Association decided to rally residents to pay for new trees and asked for advice from The Morton Arboretum. 

“We helped them choose the right trees and navigate the process of getting them planted,” says Tricia Bethke, Community Trees Project Coordinator in the Community Trees Program.

That involved negotiating for the township’s permission to plant in the parkways. As a result of those discussions, Milton Township adopted its first-ever standards for tree selection, spacing, and planting. The Arboretum then helped residents work their way through the new permit process.

Residents paid for the trees in front of their homes, with a small subsidy from the homeowners association. The Arboretum provided advice on choosing a wide variety of species, based on its Northern Illinois Tree Species List. Altogether, 60 trees—white oaks, red oaks, hackberries, honey-locusts, lindens, tulip trees, and a Kentucky coffeetree—were planted by a private contractor in May.

“Before, it was all ash and maple,” Bethke says. “Now, there’s diversity, so the community will not lose all its trees if another pest comes along.”

In July, Lincoln Hill was presented with one of the first Urban Forestry Awards from the Chicago Region Trees Initiative for the tree-planting effort. Homeowners association president Brian Bair accepted the honor.

When community residents came together last spring to celebrate the tree planting, the spotlight was on one tree and one neighbor. As a result of a special effort by Bair, an American linden was planted to honor of the subdivision’s oldest residents, Frances Lang, who will turn 100 in December. She and her husband Ewald were the second family to move into Lincoln Hill in 1967, so she remembers when the towering trees that make the neighborhood green and shady were saplings.

The linden tree was funded by The Nature Conservancy as part of a region-wide tree-planting effort and by a grant from the Alfred Bersted Foundation.

TreeKeepers based at the Arboretum are part of a volunteer program that has been helping to plant and care  for more than 20 years. In DuPage County, they have big plans to help local governments, homeowners associations, and neighborhood groups improve the urban forest. They plan to assist in community tree plantings; provide education and information to residents on mulching, pruning, and watering; and develop a mapping project to create tree inventories and provide monitoring data.

To become TreeKeepers, volunteers go through a training program on tree biology, best tree care practices, tree identification, hands-on skills such as planting, pruning and mulching, and other topics. The next training session runs from September to October . If you’re interested in becoming a community tree volunteer, learn more at mortonarb.org/treekeepers.