People driving down Fulton Street are welcomed by canopies of cherry trees.
Before Jim Sack took an initiative to have trees planted, all that stood out along the downtown street were utility poles, which Sack considered ugly. Now, in the spring, the trees burst forth with pink blossoms.
“When somebody goes through that, they see this is a more desirable place,” said Sack, a former West Rudisill Boulevard Association president. “The idea is to make all of Fort Wayne a more desirable place.”
And he's hoping to lead by example. He's invested about $20,000 in trees through the city's Citizens Mass Tree Planting Program, where residents can have a tree planted with a $50 donation.
The Fort Wayne Parks Department then covers the rest of the costs and has those sponsored trees planted in the fall by contractors, along with more than 1,000 other trees around Fort Wayne. Driven by his passion for horticulture, Sack has planted trees without the city's help as well, and he estimates they typically cost $200 to $250 each.
Fort Wayne is planting more trees this year than past years because of community partnerships – with individuals and organizations.
Derek Veit, the city's superintendent of forestry operations, starts planning long before crews start planting trees in the fall. The city's portion of planting 1,414 trees this year will cost $293,950. The city spent $244,395 on 1,104 trees in 2020 and $207,685 on 978 trees in 2019.
“The truth is the trees we're requesting approval for today aren't really for us,” Veit said while addressing the City Council in late September. “These trees represent an investment in the future of Fort Wayne.”
The increase in the city's annual tree planting program is because of the many effects trees have on surrounding areas. Kody Tinnel of the Southwest Area Partnership said sponsoring trees was an easy decision for the group when it looked at how to best invest in the area.
When deciding where to plant trees, city officials split the annual total between the four quadrants of the city, based on how many miles of roads each has. About 275 extra trees will be planted in the southwest quadrant's public rights-of-way this year.
Tinnel said the group plans to buy more than 500 trees for the area over the next two years. Each quadrant has an area partnership group that works to improve their surroundings, but Tinnel said the others don't appear to see the same development value in trees.
“The desired impact is a combination of cleaner air, less storm water runoff, higher property values, healthier citizens, enhanced walkability, more urban wildlife, safer streets, reduced energy costs and an overall more pleasant city to live,” he said. “Trees are critical elements of our public infrastructure, and we are excited to expand the planting efforts in the southwest area.”
Veit tries to find assorted tree varieties in each site, paying attention to which varieties will survive in which circumstances. More than 1,000 of this year's 1,414 trees will go along city streets, but trees won't thrive as much in a park strip – a narrow area between streets and sidewalks – compared with an area where its roots have more room to grow.
For example, Veit has tried having Japanese tree lilacs planted along Lower Huntington Road. He thinks they will be a beautiful addition, but he hopes time doesn't show it wasn't the right move.
“We use as many varieties as we can,” he said. “The street tree planting sites are not the most desirable planting sites for trees.”
It can be tricky to find new types of trees to put along some of the streets. Aside from limits on space, trees are affected by air pollution from traffic, as well as salt and sand placed on the roads during inclement weather.
If there are utility lines nearby, only shorter trees can be planted. That's one lesson the parks department has learned the hard way, Veit said.
Room for more
Most of the trees the city plants annually are for the streets. The city has about 46,000 trees planted along streets and sidewalks, compared with about 20,000 trees in Fort Wayne's parks.
And that's by design, Veit said.
“The parks aren't necessarily designed to be forests,” he said. “There are open areas that are intended to be left open.”
Regardless of how many trees are planted annually, there is always room for more, Veit said. The city has about 40,000 identified sites where trees should be planted in the future.
When trees are planted, the trunks are typically about an inch and a half in diameter. The city tries to plant more mature trees – about 3 inches in diameter – along streets to have a more immediate impact, Veit said.
The city is unable to honor requests for residents to have trees planted on their property. The Citizens Mass Tree Planting Program is one way for individuals to help the department's efforts.
Participation typically costs $50, but low-income residents can see if they qualify to have the fee waived.
“It's a way to get your house or your property to the top of that planting list,” Veit said. “One thing we've found is when we put trees where they want them, the likelihood of survival is much better.”
People can register for the program starting each year in February with a deadline of July 1.
Sack had the numerous trees along Fulton planted because he owns a single rental property on the street. When an emerald ash borer infestation wiped out thousands of ash trees throughout Fort Wayne, Sack worked his way down Rudisill Boulevard, near where he lives, planting trees to replace ones that had been removed.
Aside from the health and environmental benefits, planting trees is a way to make a long-lasting investment, Sack said.
“Most of these trees will be still going after I'm long gone,” he said. “It's a cheap way of making an impact, and it's an available way.”
Veit said he finds it encouraging to see how many people want trees planted around their homes.
“It's too bad that trees don't make Wi-Fi signals instead,” he said. “Everyone would have their own. People would have one planted on top of their cars.”