BUCYRUS, Ohio -- Street trees, those often planted between neighborhood sidewalks and city streets, can be an invaluable natural resource for a community. They improve aesthetics, increase property values, provide a habitat for wildlife and add environmental benefits.
But if street trees are poorly selected and not cared for properly, what was planted for beauty can become a hazard to both people and property. Such an experience befell residents of Bucyrus, Ohio -- a quaint 187-year-old community in north central Ohio -- two winters ago, and the lessons learned have since been transformed into a unique citywide Ohio State University Extension street tree educational program.
Known as STREET (Street Tree Resource Evaluation and Education Trust), the program educates citizens on the appropriate selection, planting, and maintenance of street trees -- tasks generally reserved for the city or through contracted tree services.
"The need for this project was emphasized by the significant public, private, and utility property damage, and subsequent clean-up expense from downed trees that was a direct result of a devastating ice storm the city of Bucyrus experienced in 2004," said Steve Prochaska, an OSU Extension educator for Crawford County.
Following the storm, an OSU Extension Master Gardener survey of 98 percent of the street trees in Bucyrus revealed that two-thirds were maple species, with many improperly selected and placed given their size and durability. One such tree was the silver maple.
"Silver maple constituted nearly 30 percent of all the trees surveyed, but it's not recommended as a street tree," said Prochaska. "Though fast growing, the silver maple is soft wooded and is not structurally sound. It's a prolific seeder which can be a nuisance, and the roots have been known to rip up sidewalks and roads."
Prochaska said that as a result of the ice storm and subsequent tree survey, OSU Extension saw the opportunity to create awareness and educate residents in the proper selection and care of trees.
STREET, which launched last year, began as a program to train Master Gardeners in identifying, inventorying and evaluating city trees; educating city officials on the need for a tree-planting program; and educating residents on street tree planting. A $5,000 Bucyrus Community Foundation grant, along with $4,000 in funds from the city of Bucyrus, was awarded to provide free trees to residents, who had been screened and educated on proper siting, planting and maintaining of the tree.
"STREET has been a roaring success. Ninety eight trees were planted on Bucyrus streets in 2006, and so far, we have 100 percent survival rate," said Prochaska. "Residents have taken ownership of the project and pride in tree care, which has just increased the program's success. STREET has another potential benefit for Bucyrus in terms of aiding economic development."
Free trees under the STREET program will be handed out again next year through grant money and city funds. American Electric Power (AEP) has also joined the program through a donation of trees, and there is a waiting list for trees.
"The funding for the trees is only for two years, so the plan is to encourage residents to buy their own trees, then look to STREET for education and tree care -- everything from tree selection based on location to proper pruning and mulching," Prochaska.
Whatever the future of the program, what has been done in Bucyrus is a good thing, emphasized Prochaska.
"Everyone feels good about planting a tree," he said.