Group photo

ReTree Schenectady (ReTree) is a non-profit organization formed in 1991 that is dedicated to the planting, care, and conservation of current and future generations of trees in the City of Schenectady. Their goals are achieved by fostering community involvement through education and collaboration with local organizations and businesses.

ReTree has applied for and received many rounds of NYS DEC Cost-Share grants. Here, ReTree President Dr. Betsy Henry shares some of her experiences and has some advice for new applicants. First and most basic, applicants should make sure to address all the areas requested in the grant application. Then she has some advice about good planning and collaboration for projects.

NYS Urban Forestry Coordinator Mary Kramarchyk reviews the cost-share grant applications. “I’m always pleased, relaxed, and relieved when I read the application from ReTree Schenectady,” she says. “Typically all the required documentation is included with a perfectly written narrative, such that you can clearly visualize what’s going to be done. I’m so grateful to Betsy for this article, because information sharing is so important—and is one of the benefits—of working in the urban forestry world.”

family planting

Bare root allows the whole family to be more involved.

Betsy Henry:
In Schenectady, the whole city is split up into neighborhoods with names and neighborhood associations. We make a point of meeting with the associations and to try to find someone who is active in their neighborhood who will be our person on the ground. That has been a very successful approach for us.

ReTree volunteer preps a tree for planting

ReTree volunteer preps a tree for planting

A great example of this is Jacquie Hurd from the Bellevue neighborhood, who is really exceptional at mobilizing her neighbors to help with tree planting and care. First, Jacquie goes door to door, explaining the benefits of urban trees to her neighbors, letting them know what’s needed in terms of maintenance, and getting their buy-in. Then, we come in to identify planting sites, do site assessment, and help pick the appropriate trees species. Then the neighborhood volunteers do the tree planting, and we advise on tree care. Now when you drive around the Bellevue neighborhood, there are very few blocks that don’t have new or young trees planted.

Throughout ReTree’s history, it’s been important to us that the residents feel ownership of the process, rather than having people from outside the neighborhood come and say, “We’re going to plant trees here.” The kind of outreach that Jacquie does helps get residents invested in the whole process. As our point person, Jacquie comes to the meetings of sister neighborhood associations to help energize them, and she acts as a liaison. Everyone feels good after planting trees; what’s interesting is that tree planting is often a doorway into greater civic involvement. Jacquie Hurd, for instance, went on to run for City Council.

ReTree is a completely independent 501(c)(3) non-profit; the Schenectady city forester attends meetings and is very active in our tree planting efforts. ReTree pays for the trees; on planting day, the City delivers the trees and the bags of mulch to the planting locations. In our grant writing going forward, we are going to claim that in-kind support from the City as the matching resource.

To new applicants, I would suggest doing like ReTree did and starting out small. Our original grants were small so that we could focus our efforts and get a system down. We were intimidated when we did our first bare root planting in 1998, but now things are relatively easy.

planters pride

ReTree volunteers savor their accomplishments.

The other thing that ReTree feels is important (and that gets extra credit on the DEC application) is to identify environmental justice areas of the City and focus on getting trees into those neighborhoods. We look at the whole city and try to get an equitable distribution of tree planting happening. That can be challenging when for those neighborhoods where people are less civically engaged, but it is important to make the extra effort.

We are proud of the collaborations with various groups in the City. For instance, Union College students often walk over to the planting sites and seem to appreciate the chance to meet and work with their non-college neighbors. ReTree Schenectady has worked closely with the City of Schenectady, particularly with the Parks Department, the Public Works Department, and the Department of Neighborhood Revitalization. Alliances with other local organizations such as Schenectady 2000, Union College, Schenectady High School, the Boy Scouts, several churches,  General Electric volunteers, and numerous neighborhood associations. We have planted more than 3000 trees since our founding in 1998.

tree planted through retree

Bare root trees thriving in a Schenectady right-of-way.

For our next grant, we want to apply for a maintenance grant so that the City of Schenectady can do proactive pruning.

What follows is Schenectady’s Round 11 grant narrative and project schedule, to give others an example of these important pieces of a successful grant application.



Neighborhood Trees is a TREE PLANTING project that will involve residents in planting 150 bare-root street trees in residential neighborhoods and two balled and burlapped trees at Yates Village, a low-income public housing project in Schenectady. ReTree Schenectady will partner with the City of Schenectady, YouthBuild, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, neighborhood associations, and residents to plan and implement the project. ReTree Schenectady will also provide training of residents in tree maintenance including watering and pruning.


The scope of the proposed project is to plant 150 trees along residential streets in the public right-of-way (i.e., the tree lawn). Two larger balled and burlapped trees will be planted in conjunction with the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and the Boys and Girls Club at Yates Village, a low-income public housing project in the North Schenectady neighborhood. In general, neighborhoods that have been particularly affected by tree losses due to disease, storm damage, and aging will be targeted for planting. In addition, up to 10 of the 150 trees will be planted in Environmental Justice areas and an additional 10 trees will be planted in areas designated as federal Urban Renewal Community areas. The project will involve residents in site selection, planting, and maintenance. Final site selection will be determined during implementation (see photos of example locations in Attachments). ReTree Schenectady will work with local organizations, volunteers, and the City of Schenectady to implement the project.  A local landscape architect will provide in-kind support on tree selection, planting specifications, and planting oversight. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schenectady County will provide in-kind technical support regarding site assessment, tree selection, and problem diagnosis on newly planted trees (see letter of support in Attachments).

Tree Planting and Maintenance Methodology For residential neighborhoods, the most cost-effective approach to tree planting uses bare-root trees and volunteer labor. ReTree Schenectady has a 12-year track record of successfully planting trees using this approach. Bare-root trees offer significant cost savings over balled and burlapped trees, are available in a wide variety of species, and can be planted by volunteers. ReTree Schenectady usually plants 1.5 – 2 inch caliper trees using this method. Suitable species are selected based on the site (e.g., width of tree lawn, presence/absence of overhead wires) from the Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute list of approved trees, as detailed in the Attachments.  In addition, ReTree Schenectady regularly checks tree status and maintains survival records for all bare-root trees planted over the past 12 years. This information is used to select species that will do well.

Detailed planting specifications provided in the Attachments include criteria for selection of appropriate planting sites and standards for tree planting. Final species and planting sites will be determined during implementation of the project. Tree maintenance plans are also detailed in the Attachments. In general, future maintenance and care will be the responsibility of ReTree Schenectady, neighborhood residents, and the City of Schenectady. Trees will only be planted in locations where neighborhood residents have agreed to maintain them.

Partnerships, Outreach, and Education ReTree Schenectady will partner with the City of Schenectady, YouthBuild (see letter of support in Attachments), Cornell Cooperative Extension (see letter of support in Attachments), Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority (see letter of support in Attachments), neighborhood associations, and residents to plan and implement tree planting. The project will strengthen community partnerships between the many organizations working in Schenectady for the benefit of neighborhoods. ReTree Schenectady will provide funding, technical resources, and training. Neighborhood associations and the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority will help to recruit residents to plant, care, and maintain neighborhood trees. Residents will select planting sites and plant and water the trees. Other volunteers from the community (i.e., Youth Build, service organizations, Union College students) will also help plant.  ReTree Schenectady volunteers will train residents in planting and watering, provide Gators® for watering, monitor the health and progress of the trees, and prune, as necessary, when the trees are young. The City of Schenectady will assist in the transport of trees and mulch to planting sites. The City will also provide future long-term maintenance of trees planted through the program.

Outreach and education will include 1) speaking at neighborhood association meetings, churches, and other civic organizations and 2) maintaining a ReTree Schenectady webpage on the City of Schenectady website. Residents who participate in the program receive individual instruction on tree planting and maintenance on planting day, receive informational handouts on tree care and maintenance, and have access to ongoing technical advice from ReTree Schenectady volunteers. In addition, tree-related inquiries to the Mayor’s Office are referred to ReTree Schenectady and these contacts often lead to tree planting projects on specific streets.  Finally, ReTree Schenectady works closely with the Office of General Services/Neighborhood Revitalization to identify neighborhoods where sidewalk projects are impacting the urban forest and tree planting is warranted.

Long-Term Support of Program Goals and Municipal Plans – The proposed project is consistent with the 2003 Tree Master Plan for the City of Schenectady. According to a tree inventory (3% random sample) conducted during preparation of the master plan, the right-of-way tree population rate in Schenectady is less than one-half the national average. One recommendation of the master plan is to work toward full stocking. The project is also consistent with Schenectady’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2008 and the Analysis of Street Trees completed in 2009. Highlighted relevant excerpts from each plan are provided in the Attachments.

Social/Economic/Environmental Benefits – Neighborhood involvement in tree planting provides concrete and highly visible evidence of neighborhood restoration and revitalization. By participating in selection of planting sites, tree planting, and tree maintenance, residents feel involved and committed to their neighborhoods. Planting days are a time for neighborhood celebration and trees provide long-term visible evidence of commitment to neighborhood beautification.  In addition to social benefits, the proposed project will provide economic and environmental benefits including energy conservation through shading and wind shielding. In addition, the Tree Master Plan emphasizes that the urban forest provides stormwater capture, diminution of urban heat island effects, economic enhancement of commercial and residential properties, reduction of public health threats through improved air quality, and aesthetic enhancement of the community.

Relationship Of Proposed Project To Significant Resources On The Property – Existing resources in the tree lawns include overhead and underground utilities. Only trees with mature heights less than 30 feet will be planted when overhead wires are present. Underground utilities will be located and marked prior to planting. Specifications regarding planting near underground utilities, driveways, corners and other resources are detailed in the Attachments.

Current And Anticipated Financial Resources – ReTree Schenectady has sufficient funds on hand to carry out the project and receives private donations each year. ReTree Schenectady also participates in National Grid’s 10,000 Trees Program, which provides 50 dollars for each appropriate tree planted underneath utility wires. In the past few years, the National Grid program has provided about $2,000 per year. No federal or state funds would be used for the match.

Environmental Justice and Under-served Neighborhoods – At least 10 trees will be targeted for Environmental Justice areas in Schenectady (see map in Attachments). These areas include, for example, Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods where the median household income in 2000 (2010 census data not yet available) was $16,645, 86% of neighborhood residents were low-income, 70% were very low income, and 44% lived below the poverty level. At least 10 additional trees will be planted in under-served/distressed neighborhoods (e.g., Central State and North Schenectady neighborhoods) identified through inclusion in the Federal Urban Renewal Community program (see map in Attachments). These neighborhoods have little access to green space and suffer from the widespread loss of trees to aging and storm damage.  ReTree Schenectady will work with neighborhood residents to promote neighborhood participation, plant and maintain trees, and educate residents on the value of trees. Exact street locations have not been identified at this time.  inal site selection will be determined in collaboration with residents.  Photos of example locations are provided in the Attachments.


Activity Date Cost
Spring Tree Planting (50 bare-root trees, 2 balled and burlapped trees) March – April 2012 $4,800 trees, $130 mulch, $150 planting supplies and expenses, $500 landscape architect
Fall Tree Planting (50 bare-root trees) September – October 2012 $4,000 trees, $125 mulch, $150 planting supplies and expenses, $500 landscape architect
Spring Tree Planting (50 bare-root trees) March – April 2013 $4,000 trees, $125 mulch, $150 planting supplies and expenses, $500 landscape architect