Getting to Know Council Treasurer Lori Brockelbank

Lori on TdT ride
Lori (center) with fellow Tour des Trees riders in Wisconsin in 2014. Photo by R. Jeanette Martin

Like so many of our members, Council Treasurer Lori Brockelbank is living a big, passionate life. This includes riding for the third year in a row in the STIHL Tour des Trees to benefit the TREE fund. Lori will join riders headed to Florida to ride 500 miles during the week of October 25-31.

Full-tour cyclists commit to raising at least $3,500 for the TREE Fund. The money raised supports the discovery of better methods for propagation, planting and care of urban trees.

Lori with Tour des Trees friend Frazer Pehmoeller
Lori with Tour des Trees friend Frazer Pehmoeller

The Tour also funds education programs aimed at connecting young people with the environment and with career opportunities in the green industries. You can support Lori’s TEAM NY here, and you can read about Lori’s Tour des Trees experiences—and many other things going on in Lori’s life—on her blog, The Gypsy Arborist, and on a TAKING ROOT blog post from last year.

Can you tell us about childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry?
Lori Brockelbank: I grew up in an area surrounded by a swamp and forest that I would explore with my dogs in tow, and on Sunday mornings my dad and I would ride our horses on the nearby trails. We also had a wood burning stove, so my summers were spent in part logging with my dad—not my favorite thing to do. I had a book that I would use for pressing leaves during the summers and I remember decorating the walls in my bedroom with colorful fall leaves. In fifth grade, I attended conservation field days where I was introduced to the environmental field. It stuck with me and I do believe that is what ultimately led me to my career.

What was your educational trajectory?
LB: Oh, the many paths we go down to get to our destination. I wanted to go to school for marine biology, but financially speaking, it was not in the cards. I decided to go with forestry, and originally I’d planned on doing the New York State Ranger School through Jamestown Community College (JCC) and SUNY ESF. But my spring semester of my freshman year at JCC changed all that when I lost my focus and was scared away from the natural science classes; I switched to a degree in sociology.

Bikes in trees
Bikes growing on trees in Wisconsin during the 2014 Tour des Trees. Photo by R. Jeanette Martin 

After graduating from JCC, I decided I needed a break and to experience life in order to see what I wanted to do. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I volunteered during this time with the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Department under the guidance of Dave Wilson. Dave helped me to focus once again and encouraged me to attend ESF. (Dave was also the instructor at that pivotal fifth grade conservation field days program.) I applied to the Ranger School and was told to attend the main campus (SUNY ESF) instead—a small detour on my road of life that introduced me to some amazing individuals. As arborists I don’t think our education ever ends, that’s what makes it exciting. Each and every day we are learning from new research from around the world, so our education truly is never completed.

What has been your career trajectory?
LB: I have been very blessed and lucky with my career. Straight out of ESF I worked with Davey Resource Group (DRG) in California on the PG & E inventory project. It was my first real introduction to urban forestry and it would turn out to be the key to launching my career. After returning to New York, I got a job at Forecon, Inc, working as a forester, cruising and marking timber. I took a break from being a forester to work as a restaurant manager for five years and to have my two wonderful boys, Mathew and Johnathon. But I knew where my heart and passion was, and I eventually returned to them at Forecon, where I stayed for another ten years and segued into my true passion, urban forestry. Since then I have had an incredible career filled with amazing experiences, friendships, and living the life of a Lorax.

On the Tour with fellow arborist friend Kristina Bezanson
On the Tour with fellow arborist and friend, Kristina Bezanson

In 2008 I attended the Municipal Forestry Institute in New Braunfels, Texas, where I learned so much that I can’t even begin to tell you about it all! But the best thing I took away from that experience was friendship. It’s where I met fellow arborist Kristina Bezanson who I have had the honor to bike with on the Tour des Trees and run/walk with at the SMA conference Urban Forest Foundation fundraiser.

At MFI, I also met Terry, who sends me Texas bluebells for my gardens, and I send him and his wife fall leaves from NY. I met Paul, who has helped me grow professionally by asking me, “What are you going to do today to be better tomorrow?” I met fellow NYSUFC member Brian, who I found out was in California in 1997 working on the same project I was with DRG. I keep in touch with so many wonderful people I met at MFI and we offer each other advice and assistance all the time. To me, that is arboriculture—it’s one big family that never lets you down. Together we help make the world a better place, one tree at a time.

Can you tell us some about your current position? What are your favorite parts of the job?
LB: I am currently a staff arborist at Wendel Companies, working with the City of Buffalo and assisting them with maintaining and enhancing their tree canopy. I am also working at JCC where I teach an urban forestry class and update their management plan every two years.

Lori with 2015 Jamestown community colleges interns accepting the Tree Campus USA recognition in Albany, NY
Lori with 2015 Jamestown Community College interns accepting the Tree Campus USA recognition in Albany

I like so many aspects of my work, but if I had to pick one, it would be teaching at JCC. It was where I started on my journey, and it’s an honor to help them with their trees and to help guide the students to be future Loraxes in their communities. Watching them develop and seeing their passion renews my own passion every year. I keep in touch with some of my students and even those who have not become urban foresters are truly making a difference in their world.

Lori’s NYSUFC mentor, Pat Tobin.

Please tell us about your involvement with the NYSUFC.
LB: My first contact was at the Saratoga Conference in 2007. I went into it not knowing anyone or anything. My first night there I met my roommate and future friend and mentor, Pat Tobin. She sat down with me for hours and shared with me her passion for the Council. I immediately knew I had found my new tree family. I met Andy Hillman at the conference and he had me ready and willing to sign up for MFI for the following February. Both Pat and Andy continue to be my mentors and inspiration; they have a passion that is simply amazing. I now serve on the executive committee of the board and as treasurer. I am still learning the ropes and ladders of the Council and of the state, but it is such a joy to work alongside my fellow members who have been so helpful to me.

When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is and you only have about 60 seconds to answer, what do you say?
LB: My elevator speech is this: “Urban forestry is the care of the trees in your community. The tree under which you took a picture of your son or daughter in their prom outfit. The tree you had a picnic under. The tree with the tire swing in the backyard. The trees you walk under with your dog/loved one. The tree the birds return to year after year. It is the enhancement and beautification of your community one tree at a time. Anyone can be an urban forester; do you want to join me in a tree planting this fall/spring?”

Lori with boys and friend
Lori with her boys, Mathew (oldest) and Johnathon, and their good friend Janet at the second Muddy Viking competition. Notice that all four of them received medals! 

What are your interests in your free time?
LB: My boys are first and foremost; they keep me very busy. We recently purchased an old cider mill that was built in 1865; I have a feeling it will be taking up a lot of my free time in the future to restore the barn and the property. I am learning so much while restoring the property, not just about tools, plumbing, and how to get slivers out—most of all that I am able to accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible. If I am not in the barn or in the yard you may find me on my bike. This is my third year riding for the STIHL Tour des Trees. With the help of my friends, colleagues, and supporters we have raised $7600 for tree research and education. My goal this year is to reach a three-year total of $12,000.

What are two things your NYSUFC colleagues might not know about you?
LB: 1) My youngest son has to coordinate my clothes for me when I travel, because I do not have a good sense of color/ texture coordination. I guess the girly gene is not strong within me. 2) I love antiques; old hats and books are my favorite items to collect and find. I am decorating my master bedroom with some of the vintage hats and small antiques that I am finding in my barn.

Lori's sons are avid tree planters.
Lori’s sons are avid tree planters. Photo by R. Jeanette Martin

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