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Making New London greener, shadier and healthier

Vintage postcards of downtown New London show streets shaded by a majestic canopy of towering oaks, elms and maples in the early 20th century. In the century since such photographs were taken, however, insect infestations, ice storms and hurricanes, diseases and development eliminated most of this lovely greenery. The city, like so many others, was left with a landscape of concrete and blacktop devoid of trees.

Fortunately for those who live and work in the city, a grassroots citizens’ group called New London Trees is now working to restore a leafier urban landscape that will result in a healthier city.

Formed three years ago, New London Trees’ work is really taking root, so to speak, this year. Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign and a grant from Sustainable CT, the group plans to spend some $13,500 this year alone to buy and plant 30 trees in the city. The trees not only will provide cooling shade during future summers, but also will help absorb dust and pollutants, help with stormwater management, provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, increase biodiversity and help with climate change mitigation.

The 2021 planting projects are planned for Green’s Harbor park, a Montauk Avenue parklet near Lawrence & Memorial Hospital best known for hosting a summer farm market and the recently rebuilt Ashcraft Road. On Ashcraft Road, a wide grassy strip between the street and sidewalk was created when the residential street was recently narrowed, allowing for tree planting there.

While the enthusiasm and dedication among the group of 20 active New London Trees volunteers is reason enough to recognize and laud the group, an even better reason to do so is the deep knowledge about trees among the group’s members. Partnering with the Connecticut College Arboretum, the group is carefully selecting tree varieties best suited for specific sites. American hornbeam, pepperidge and sweetgum are among these.

New London Trees also is conscious of the need to help ensure better tree survival rates in an urban environment where conditions can be harsh. It is not planting tiny saplings, for example, which could be more vulnerable to vandalism. Instead, it is choosing trees that already are six to ten feet tall. It also understands that wider, longer medians — such as that on Gov. Winthrop Boulevard and the new median on Ashcraft Road — will better store water and provide more natural watering for the trees. Members are working with the city’s public works department to help ensure better future tree maintenance.

“One of the biggest threats is mowers,” said Maggie Redfern, a spokeswoman for the group and one of its founders, referring to the potential for tree damage in public parks and other types of high traffic areas common in urban settings. Redfern also is assistant director of the arboretum.

Instead of a plant-it-and-hope-for-the-best mentality that is sometimes seen in public landscaping and tree-planting projects planned by volunteer groups, New London Trees is all about careful planning, making purposeful choices, partnering with the city’s government and taking a long-term view. The group wants to create an urban forest management plan for the city, for example.

We think this approach will help ensure the trees the group plants now will be enhancing the city’s public spaces for generations to come. This will mean a healthier city and maybe even a new era of postcard-perfect leafy landscapes for contemporary photographers to capture.

To learn more, visit the group’s website at newlondontrees.org.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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