Oswego’s Mary Vanouse on ReLeaf 2015

Mary Vanouse
Mary Vanouse (right) with her daughter, Allison, under a monstrous beech tree in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, MA.

I have recently retired from the Community Development Office in the City of Oswego and have volunteered with the Oswego Tree Stewards since its beginnings in 2009 when the group committed itself to making Oswego a Tree City USA. Since that time the Oswego Tree Stewards have diligently tackled tree pruning, planting hundreds of trees, and providing general tree care for the community. Every year we celebrate Arbor Day and have come to enjoy a good core group of dedicated volunteers.

For the first two years we began pruning trees in the City parks and since then have methodically been addressing street trees on a weekly basis for the past four years. In 2014 the City of Oswego completed its second tree inventory (Davey Tree Experts had completed Oswego’s first tree inventory in the 1930s), so it was fun to compare the old and new snapshots of the makeup of Oswego’s urban forest.

Oswego Tree Stewards for Mary Vanouse post
Oswego Tree Stewards during a “Saturday on the Streets” gathering, with Phil MacArthur taking the opportunity to point out signs of a dying tree (there was fungus growing from the side of the trunk).

This year I thoroughly enjoyed the 23rd Annual Re Leaf Conference. One high point for me was the in-depth tour of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project that was eloquently presented by SUNY ESF Professors William Powell and Chuck Maynard and their research associates, Linda, Allison, and Tyler. Their passion for this project is contagious. I hope that many will join them in planting many thousands of “mother” chestnuts to multiply the blight resistance throughout the eastern seaboard.

I attended the Opportunities and Solutions for Green Infrastructure workshop on Friday, which was full of remarkable stories of how Onondaga County bucked the system of “gray infrastructure” after the residents protested building more wastewater plants and the newly elected Joanne Mahoney sought another solution to the runoff into Onondaga Lake. Now after many years of the “Save the Rain” campaign and a variety of partnerships with groups like Onondaga Earth Corps, Onondaga County has become a model for green infrastructure for a healthier environment. The presentation on the Gowanus Canal by Christine Petro was also a great “turnaround” story, demonstrating the benefit of citizen engagement in bringing back environmentally challenged neighborhoods.

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SUNY ESF Professor Don Leopold

The top of my list was a lightning-speed Tree ID tour presented by Professor Don Leopold of SUNY ESF. As soon as he met the group outside the Gateway Center he immediately began to talk about the varieties of trees that surrounded us. White oak, bur oak, Norway maple with milky sap, native paw paw, and the list goes on. Leopold rose to the occasion, climbing a stone wall to point out an example of invasive European buckthorn.

Large rain drops punctuated the approach to the huge dawn redwood in Oakwood Cemetery growing along the border with SUNY ESF, but the 40 members of the tour continued as Leopold explained that this is one of the oldest dawn redwoods in North America, sent to ESF in the 1950s.

Leopold pointed out a number of specimen trees at the cemetery, from sugar maple to northern cedar to London plane and bur oak. He provided a good brisk walk and a huge variety of tree identifications over the course of the afternoon, ending with distinguishing between the American and European varieties of larch, noting his preference that the American variety be planted on the ESF campus.

I would recommend the ReLeaf conference to anyone interested in improving their understanding of trees and the care of our urban forests.  —Mary Vanouse

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