Urban Landscape
6:45 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Kansas City Losing Thousands Of Trees A Year

If you spent some time outside in the Brookside or Waldo area of town this weekend, chances are you saw people planting trees.  They are trying to replace thousands of trees that are disappearing from our neighborhoods.

Disappearing Trees

Walk any neighborhood in Kansas City Missouri and you can’t help but marvel at the stretches of unique and majestic trees that line the streets, parkways and boulevards.

Jim Summers of Heartland Tree Alliance is walking in the right-of-way near Meyer Boulevard, the city property between the sidewalk and the street. He says people here are proud of the wide streets and lush, green tree canopies that line them.

He points out where trees used to be. It’s not nearly as green as it was when this boulevard was first built, dating as far back as the late 1800s. Summers says the clear and obvious blank spots in the landscape are where trees once stood. The trees weren't replaced because there simply wasn't money in the budget.

According to the Kansas City Parks and Rec department, we lose close to 4,000 trees a year.  The reasons vary: old age, disease, power lines and repairing water mains. These lost trees are just the ones city officials know about.  There could be many more that go unreported. Until now, Jim Summers says there has never been a designated program to replace them, until now.

Seeds Of Change

The new tree plantings are part of a pilot program underway with Kansas City's Department of Parks of Recreation, the Heartland Tree Alliance of Bridging the Gap and members of local homes associations.  They are working together to replant 500 trees this spring.  The homeowner then promises to take care of the tree as if it were their own. Summers says this is a way to respond to the need for trees with volunteers. It gives people who will be living with those trees the responsibility of planting and caring for them.

The trees are being donated by Forest Relief of Missouri, a non-profit in Saint Louis that grows trees for distribution to community groups and cities throughout the state, free of charge. Summers says it’s all possible because of volunteers like Jim Roddy.

Roddy lives in Oak Meyer Gardens Neighborhood. It’s one of four neighborhoods that will get new trees, trees he considers an investment. He says by planting trees on the south and west sides of your home, the shade will lower your cooling costs in the summer. Roddy also says it raises the value of the neighborhood and that it makes him feel good to plant something and see it grow.

What Will The Tree Be?

But what will that something be? Many people don’t want just any tree, even if it is free!

Laura O’Brian knows what she doesn’t want to see: sweet gum trees. She doesn't like the sticky, gumballs they leave all over her yard. What she does like are native flowering or even fruit trees.

Organizers say you won't get to pick, since the trees are donated, homeowners will be given one of three possibilities: redbuds, oaks or dogwoods. What variety of tree you will get will be based on the space in front of your house. Jim Summers says it's still a free tree that comes with support and advice from the Heartland Tree Alliance, whose staff promise to come back and check with homeowners about the care of the tree.

And along with the new trees the city and volunteers will be planting seeds of a partnership. They hope to see more tree plantings in the fall and the years to come.