The Transformation’s Conception
According to Nick Meyer, Chair of the Essex Tree Advisory Committee, three or so years ago, there was very minimal structural organization around the village’s trees. “We didn’t have a Tree Policy or Tree Advisory Committee. There was basically no organized effort.” The village relied on Public Works to do tree removals, and despite having a grant for purchasing and planting trees, the lack of organization made it difficult to utilize the grant. A small group of community members decided something needed to be done to improve this situation.
Change in Action
A group of people from Essex Junction who had completed the SOUL Tree Steward course began to meet and brainstorm about how to organize. The first step they decided to take was to form a Tree Policy which would guide how the village trees would be managed. After approaching and discussing the idea with the Essex Junction Trustees, the group wrote the policy with the help of Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program. A few months later, the Policy was approved and adopted by the village and an official Tree Advisory Committee was formed as well.
While many positive improvements were set in motion, not everything has been a walk in the park. Meyer recounted that the biggest challenge about conducting long-term community-wide tree stewardship projects has been educating residents and officials about the value of trees. He said the benefits trees give us in an urban environment are often not brought to light and are taken for granted. Having said this, Meyer remains confident that through continued education and awareness efforts, the whole community will be able to recognize just how beneficial thriving urban forests are to the community as a whole’s vibrancy.
Grants have been a paramount force in the changes Essex Junction has been able to see through in the past few years. One especially influential grant was a Canopy Grant which funded a tree inventory that’s still being conducted to this day. Grants also allowed for outreach efforts and the development of a management plan which is still in the works.
All of these efforts like the formation of a Tree Policy, Advisory Committee, Inventory, Management Plan, and awarding of grants are resulting in tangible outcomes that surround improving the health of their urban forest and management plan. Excitingly, another intangible but equally important outcome is arising as well: a sparked community interest in their urban forest. People are becoming more aware of trees’ crucial role in communities, asking questions, and overall becoming more engaged with the idea of community tree stewardship. Meyer maintains that VT UCF played an essential role in aiding these huge steps forward. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Even with all of the work that the Essex Junction Tree Advisory Committee’s been able to accomplish, Meyer says the group is still in its infancy and there is still a list of goals to be met including the formation of a masterplan, streetscape planning, and community education.
Perhaps one of the most important topics on the minds’ of the committee is the question of how to keep the committee and a village tree management in general, sustainable. The ultimate goal is to successfully weave the Tree Advisory Committee into the fabric of the village government where the entity can sustain itself and grow for generations.
If you live in or near Essex Junction and are interested in creating an impact on Essex Junction now and for generations to come, consider tree stewardship volunteering! For information on how to get involved, contact Darby at the Essex Junction Village Office or Nick Meyer.
Congratulations, Essex Junction on your community tree transformation and good luck with your continued work.