Getting to Know Brenda Cagle

Brenda's at center, wearing sunglasses, with other members of the proud Red Hook Village Green Committee.
Brenda’s at center, wearing sunglasses, with other members of the proud Red Hook Village Green Committee.

Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in conservation, trees, and urban forestry?
Brenda Cagle: Growing up in West Virginia in the Ohio Valley surrounded by those beautiful hills must have been the beginning, for I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel connected to trees, hills, or nature in general. It’s kind of a spiritual thing like watching a fire burn or looking at the ocean. Anyone who grows up there learns this first line to the state song: “Oh the West Virginia Hills, how majestic and how grand.” (Go Mountaineers!!)

Brenda and Nancy Guski
Unloading bare root trees with fellow Village Green member Nancy Guski

When and how did you first get involved with NYSUFC? In what ways have you participated, and what has your involvement meant to you?
BC: I first joined NYSUFC in 2003 and became a board member in 2006 probably at Mary’s urging—don’t we all? I co-chaired the Region 3 ReLeaf Committee for several years with our regional forester, Lou Sebesta. It has definitely been a two-way street participating as a volunteer. I have been able to share our experiences in Red Hook with other communities as well learn from all the other members, professional and volunteer alike. Of course, I believe that Region 3* rocks! Friendly regional competition only brings us together.                   *[Region 3 is Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties.]

What was your educational trajectory like? 
BC: Sometimes the best education begins after the formal education ends. After earning a degree in math from West Virginia University and a ten-year stint as a programmer with IBM, the other kind of education kicked in. Becoming a Master Gardener was a great foundation for getting involved in community tree work. I started taking plants more seriously although I must confess that my eyes still glaze over when talk goes much beyond xylem and phloem. As for urban forestry education—well, that began with all of you, with ReLeaf conferences, regional workshops, networking.

Les and Brenda
Brenda with husband Les

What has been your career trajectory?
BC: After IBM and 3 ½ years in Germany, I began my real career—volunteerism. The themes were always community and environment.  It is a fortunate person who gets to work for what they care about, and I consider myself fortunate.

Son Seth
Son Seth

I live in the Village of Red Hook located in the Town of Red Hook, so my work has been with both village and town. I started when my family was young by staging environmental fairs at the elementary school and promoting recycling. That led to joining and then chairing Village Green (Village of Red Hook’s tree committee), chairing the town’s Conservation Advisory Council, and gaining a seat on the town council.

When I listened to Nina Bassuk promoting Cornell’s small community street tree inventory program, I was convinced that this was the next step our village should take, but I didn’t realize that someday I myself would be conducting inventories in the Hudson Valley. Starting in 2007, I worked with Stephanie Radin and Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County to conduct 11 inventories in the Hudson Valley modeled after Nina’s program. There were lots of 911 emails to Nina and her colleague, Fred Cowett! Master Gardeners and Bard College students proved to be fast learners of the i-Tree Streets tree inventory software. With tablets in hand, we inventoried almost 6300 trees with a total annual benefit value of almost $917,000.

Olive the family dog
Olive the family dog

A funny note: my husband studied forestry at Penn State and ended up as a programmer at IBM while I did the opposite—IBM first, then trees.

What are points of pride re: Red Hook’s urban forest and other environmental features?
BC: There is lots of community support for environmental initiatives of all kinds in our town. With the influence of Bard College and a populace that has supported the preservation of thousands of acres of farmland, it should come as no surprise that we have three tree committees, three street tree inventories, one arboretum, one Tree Campus USA (Bard College, 8 years), and two Tree City USA designations (Village of Red Hook for 15 years, Town of Red Hook for 11 years, Tivoli coming soon).

In other areas, the Town of Red Hook has conducted a greenhouse gas inventory, adopted energy-efficient building requirements, received grant funding for solar installations, and was recently named a Climate Smart Community. We just completed a new town-wide trail plan with a strong collaboration among town, villages, schools, and Bard College.

daughter katy and son in law Greg
Daughter Katy and son-in-law Greg

What are you busiest with at the moment?
BC: I am working with the town on two grant-funded projects. One is a new sidewalk to be constructed this spring and the other is the V2V Trail (Village to Village) that connects the Villages of Red Hook and Tivoli. And of course, I will be planting trees with Village Green when spring arrives.

What are your interests in your free time and final thoughts?
BC: I love road trips, reading (currently with a pretty crazy book club), playing bridge (rank beginner), spending time with family and friends, and being among trees and out in nature.

Just as trees improve the quality of life for our communities, so has the urban forestry community enriched my quality of life. This UF community is generous, caring, fun-loving, and dedicated. This experience was an unplanned journey but one that I am so glad to have traveled. And in case my family happens to read the blog … they’re the best!


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