NYSA Booth, 1990

New York State Arborists has sponsored a booth at the New York State Fair since 1982. That makes this the fortieth year. (Covid resulted in no Fair in 2020.)

NYSA Gall Display

Dedicated volunteers help people who drop by with concerns about their trees. Every square inch affords a wealth of references used to answer questions about tree identification, insect attack, fungi, utility conflicts, and pruning good and bad.

Rebecca Hargrave

It’s a busy place, according to Rebecca Hargrave, Associate Professor of Environmental and Renewable Resources at SUNY Morrisville, who has been working the booth for six years or so.

Fair Food

“Even when the other booths are slow,” she says, “there is always action at the NYSA booth.”

On a typical Fair day at the end of August 2023, visitors making the approach to the booth in the Horticulture Building pass by the typical State Fair offerings.

Competitive Cattle

Fairgoers enjoy the cow barn.

The Cow Barn

There are the classic sweet Fair sights.

Trooper with Chief

Outside the Horticulture Building, it is possible to visit with the State Troopers’ horses. Chief, a 21-year-old black and white paint, has a “unique bond” with his trooper.

Norway Maple

Just beside the doors stands a thriving Norway maple, seemingly unaware of its complicated relationship to contemporary forestry.

Prize-winning Produce

Once inside the Horticulture Building there is prize-winning produce.

Flower Instruction

And, just across from the NYSA booth, botanical lectures. An expert intones about “crimes against flowers,” and how you must be sure to change the water in vases frequently.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Basil

While right around the corner the Cornell Cooperative extension of Onondaga County displays lush pots of herbs, including some sweet-smelling basil.

At the NYSA booth. Rebecca and Duane Dickinson, a utility arborist with National Grid, answer questions.

“How can I tell if my tree is a sugar maple and not a Norway?”
“Is it too late to save my ash?”
“What is all this green crusty stuff growing all over my tree?”
“How can I find an arborist where I live?”

A typical visitor details the problem that brought him to the booth: “We bought this lake house with maples that are stressed.” After further conversation, Duane suggests the tree might need air spading “to get some oxygen into those roots.”

One visitor needs a recommendation for a professional to help plant an apple tree. Rebecca hands her a list of arborists in Zone 7 who can advise her on what cultivar to install.

Maria Scime of Cattaraugus inquires about a lichen she has seen in her apple and plum orchard.

Rebecca reassures her that while the lichen might be unsightly, “it doesn’t harm the plant.”

A woman asks about pruning her “rhodies.” Duane gently corrects the terminology, reminding her that “you’re going to trim a bush, you’re going to prune a tree.”

The scent of roasted nuts wafts over from a nearby booth. Duane says he has been volunteering here for five years but has so far resisted the clarion aroma.

Jim Maloney, another long-time National Grid arborist, NYSA Booth Chair for the event and self-described “opinionated tree geek” enumerates some of the organization’s volunteers who have donated hours to working at the Fair over the years: Jason Borden, Rob Barrett, Terry Hawkridge, Jason Grabosky, Lori Brockelbank, Mike Gorman, Jason Pieklik, Rich Nelson and Ron Rogers, along with Rebecca and Duane. “I’m thankful for having their pedigrees behind the counter,” he says. “New supporters such as Clare Carney and Eric Parkman are fun to work with also.”

David Holley of the Town of Clarendon poses a question about a maple “that died in two weeks’ time this past spring.” Duane talks with him about the size of the tree and whether there had been any recent pruning. He suggests the culprit might be the freeze this past season preceded by the hard drought the year before. “Scrape a limb,” advises Duane, “and see if there’s any green cambium.”

Duane Dickinson
Maria Scime, Cattaraugus
David Holley, Town of Clarendon
Emerald Ash Borer Display
William Czebinick, Southern Tier

Maples, Duane says, “are aging out in New York State. It’s a mature population. Trees are just like human beings — the older you are, the more susceptible you are to disease and other problems. And trees are no different.”

Ash trees receive a lot of attention this year at the booth. Emerald Ash Borer is, of course, widespread in New York State. “Ash die-off looks like a nuclear bomb went off from here to Buffalo,” says Duane. He explains a theory about the predator reached the U.S. from Asia: “It came in through the port of Detroit.” The decimation of black ash is especially problematic, he says, as Native Americans traditionally use the wood for baskets. “You can’t stop EAB,” he says. “It’s a foregone conclusion.” The utility companies, he says, are “taking down 40-45,000 ash trees a year under power lines.”

William Czebinick is engrossed by the EAB display. “Little monsters,” he comments.

Czebinick‘s question concerns a product sold in a hardware store, a powder that will ostensibly kill Ash Borer. The treatment might be questionable. Duane offers information about injections at the base of the tree, cautioning that the procedure might not prove worthwhile if the specimen is already more than fifty percent dead. He warns Czebinick to be very careful around his deteriorating ash trees, as they tend to be brittle, not only dropping limbs but breaking off seven or eight feet above the ground.

“Wear a hard hat, and never work alone,” Duane says. “I got an A in forestry school because I wrote that at the top of every paper.” He advises the ash owner to “wear a decent pair of chaps. The chainsaw is the most dangerous tool you’ll ever use.” Departing, Czebinick says, “You’ve about convinced me to buy those chaps!”

Burl Display

Children love the booth, which is paneled with diverse woods. One side of the table is packed with many “please touch” items for kids. Many are drawn to the burl display.

Shannon Casey, Sydney Center

Shannon Casey of Sydney Center stops by with her mother. Asked if she likes trees, she gives a quiet, shy reply. Yes.

ALB Display

People are also interested in the Asian Longhorned Beetle vitrine.

Spotted Lanternfly

Many visitors want information about Spotted Lanternfly. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers a laminated card with information about the pest. It doubles as a tool for scraping egg cases off surfaces. One of the major challenges in New York State is the decline in native species due to invasives — white pine, ash, beech trees. “They’re being attacked faster than we can assess the issues,” says Duane.

A visitor poses a question about blue spruce fungus, offering an iPhone picture of the problem. Many people share pics from their phones.

The fungus works its way up the trunk gradually, he is told, killing branches as it goes.

Asked if this is a good time for trees, Duane says, “There’s more of an awareness now. If you’re going to advise about trees, you’d better be a Certified Arborist, because the general public knows more about trees than it used to.” One challenge, he says, is that “the issue of trees has always been emotional. You can try and salvage a tree as best you can. They ask, What can I do? and if you see a photo that shows a tree which is a hazard to their home, the only answer is to mitigate it — and they don’t want to hear it.” As if to illustrate his comment, a woman approaches the booth to talk about a cherished Japanese maple in her yard, confiding, “I’m just sad to see it die.”

Duane has been a utility arborist for more than three decades and spent some time early in his career in North Carolina, hired to help with community issues, dealing especially with “escalated customer complaints.”

“Most of my hair fell out,” he says ruefully, but he adds that the experience provided an important object lesson in “getting to the personal side first and letting customers have some say in it.” He says, “Eight out of ten people when done with the utility pruning issue dragged me out back to look at the trees in their yard, so I had to learn about diseases.”

At the booth, Duane and Rebecca help visitors understand proper planting techniques, teaching people that there needs to be a visible root flare, or that there might be a girdling root problem which might not manifest until later in a tree’s life.

Rebecca agrees that now is a good time for trees. “Every time is a good time!” she says. “But now, the influx of government funds into a community can be a game changer. Federal monies are better for larger communities. New York State grants will be announced in the Fall, and people will see what the possibilities are.” She explains, “It’s the only public good that we have to beg for money for. We have to prove to people that trees are important. So these projects will raise awareness.”

Rebecca has been at SUNY Morrisville for a dozen years and is currently working toward her dissertation, focusing her research on tree equity in urban forestry. “Communities that have the least resources have the least robust urban forest,” she says. “But the hurdle of getting the resources to differing communities is monumental. How do you find the right person? It varies significantly from place to place.”

Every now and then a person working the booth finds themselves stumped. A person came in the day before, complaining about white patches on the underside of magnolia leaves. Not having dealt extensively with magnolias, Duane couldn’t assess the problem — but was able to telephone his brother in the Midwest, a board-certified Master Arborist, and he was not only able to confer on how to treat it but could recommend a regional arborist to get involved.

Rebecca is not only theoretical but practical. She says she is teaching five courses this semester, and that she customarily sends her students out with toothbrushes to get rid of scale. Have there been changes in the six years she has peopled the NYSA booth? “There are more questions about invasives,” she says. “But the basic questions are the same: planting, pruning, pest management. The level of curiosity has been consistent.”

Duane and Rebecca agree that the personal experience of being at the booth and answering questions is a rewarding one. “I absolutely love coming here,” says Duane. “I learn more every year. Part of it is developing strategy about helping trees before they fail. Some of our challenge is knowing what’s coming. You start putting plans together.”

Phone Consultation
Handout Collection, NYSA Booth

The experience has also fueled Rebecca’s thinking, as she gets a better understanding of how urban forestry programs are impacted by different factors, including community size, affluence and location. “How can New York support its local urban forestry programs? Looking at New York State, the Urban Forestry Council and communities themselves — how can we all take steps to make it better?”

The NYSA booth is clearly one such way. There is so much information to be had here.

According to Jim Maloney, “Arboriculture is more about people than it is trees, and the booth isn’t an exception. It’s supported by roughly three tenths of a percent of our NYSA membership, and they all, both past and present, have been wonderful to work with. It would be just another taco stand if it wasn’t for their time and knowledge.” As a sidenote for anyone interested in contributing in the future: “We can always use new tree oddities. Some of the display items are getting pretty worn.”

Tree knowledge sated, booth visitors can round the corner and partake of some of the best baked potatoes in New York State.

Or perhaps they might prefer the cotton candy?

After all, its flavor would not be possible without the prolific sugar maples of New York.

Potato Popularity
Maple Treat