Getting to Know the Multifaceted Rachel Holmes

RHolmes_Headshot_Nov2014NYSUFC Board Member Rachel Holmes is the coordinator of The Nature Conservancy’s urban forestry program called Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities. She is also a Flamenco dancer and a wildland firefighter (read on!). 

Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry?
Rachel Holmes: I grew up in Clifton, New Jersey on a street that was lined with a diverse mix of mature trees that had been planted by a previous generation of homeowners. I remember riding my bike over heaved sidewalks and imagining that I was racing in a BMX course. When I was in fifth grade, the town decided to redo all the sidewalks. Rather than work around the trees, they took them all down! I actually went outside to yell at the men removing the trees. Concerned for my safety, my Mom actually took me away because I think she was afraid I would throw myself in between the workers and the trees.

I was driven away from my tree-lined street and came back to … nothing. It was a pretty painful experience and at the same time, a seminal moment in my appreciation of trees. Because I had been surrounded by trees in my early childhood, I knew what I was missing when they were taken down. It is important to me now to do what I can to help prevent other people from experiencing this.

The City replaced some of the trees with flowering pears, many of which came down in storms, including ours. A few years ago, I helped my parents pick out a good specimen of eastern redbud that is doing really well; my Mom and Dad frequently text me photos of it.

While I gained an early appreciation for urban nature, I was fortunate to experience what some would call the “wild” at a much bigger scale. Starting in sixth grade, I worked on my aunt and uncle’s ranch in Colorado, learning the ins and outs of ranch management including Western horsemanship. The ranch abutted Pike National Forest which is where I was first exposed to managed forests. This is also where I first witnessed the impacts of wildfire on forest ecosystems.

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