The city has been receiving the distinguished National Arbor Day
Foundation award since 2002 and received signage and a plaque for
the 2001 calendar year. Tracy Jackson, street and alley
superintendent, says that Lincoln has maintained the foundation's
Tree City designation each year since.
Interest in the natural beauty that trees have to offer goes back
much further in the city's history. For the last century or so, city
and community leaders have prioritized their maintenance, and the
city has been recognized as a community that has worked hard to
preserve its trees. In late 1800s the town earned the nickname
"Forest City" because so many of our streets were lined with
beautiful shade trees.
The continuation of such beauty has not been without challenges
and has taken the dedication of city leaders and workers.
In the early 1900s, many of the city's large, stately shade trees
were elms. By the early to mid-'40s, the Dutch elm disease that
swept the country started killing off those trees. It is reported
that by 1949 there were over 400 dead elm trees counted on city and
It was then that Carl Hembreiker and Violet Scully led the city
and community in beginning an effective tree-planting program. A
forestry tax was added to the city levy, and the money was used to
bring in transplants of hardier, more disease-resistant varieties.
By the 1990s, Donnie Osborne, former street and alley
superintendent, decided that the city needed to have its own tree
farm, and he set to work to make it happen. Osborne's work deserves
much of the credit for the start of the Tree City recognition.
Jackson remembers that they worked to find a good location for
the farm. They didn't have a great deal of success until Les Plotner,
who was superintendent of Lincoln Elementary District 27, made
arrangements for the farm to be established on property belonging to
the school district.
The tree farm was established on the north edge of the Adams
School grounds. Jackson explained that the school district still
owns the property, but they allow the city to farm their trees there
free of charge.
The city of Lincoln has also received the Growth Award from the
Arbor Day Foundation. Applications for these awards are extensive,
requiring time and effort in tracking work by specific category,
such as tree removal, replanting, trimming and so on; plus, there
are requirements for public education and participation, to list
just a very few of the requirements. (To find out more about the
Tree City USA award and the Growth Award, use the Arbor Day
at the end of this article.)
Additional benefits of the city having its own tree farm are the
savings to the taxpayer, which adds up to thousands of dollars
annually. Jackson says that for the price of one ready-to-transplant
tree from a nursery, he can purchase almost 100 seedlings. He adds
that when the idea for the farm came about, the monetary savings to
the taxpayer was the primary reason for doing it.
The city adds about 60 seedling trees to the farm annually. The
mortality rate for the seedlings is around 75 percent.
The trees face several perils where they are planted now. Jackson
explained that the farm is sitting on the edge of a flood plain. In
years such as the one just past, trees have been lost to flooding.
Another cause of loss that is always going to be a concern no
matter where they are located is damage from wildlife. Jackson
pointed out a tree that had about 70 percent of its bark stripped
off. He said that the deer like to eat the bark from the young trees
and that rabbits chew on them as well.
Of the healthy, undamaged trees, approximately 30 per year are
planted around town, primarily as replacements for trees that have
had to be removed.
Jackson said that tree removal is based on criteria of "dead, dying,
diseased or dangerous." Trees that are dead are obvious, Jackson
says, but other criteria are a little more complicated.
A tree that appears to be dying may only need to have the dead
part cut out so that the rest of the tree can thrive.
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Dangerous trees are those that may be hanging over a roof,
causing issues in the street or along the sidewalk.
Jackson says that determining if a tree is diseased is the most
complicated. Sometimes disease is obvious, such as when a tree has
obvious fungus growing from it. Others are not quite so easy to
Jackson says there are numerous diseases that can affect the
city's trees. To help him stay abreast of all this, he has attended
several classes on forestry. He also uses information provided by
the Arbor Day Foundation. And he says he gets a lot help from Dr.
Hildebrandt from the Department of Agriculture office in Havana.
Jackson says Hildebrandt holds a number of master's degrees in
this field, and she is always willing to drive to Lincoln to look at
and offer advice on the condition of a tree.
Assessment of the trees for removal applies only to those on city
property and rights of way. If a homeowner has a tree that they are
concerned about and wants to know whether or not it is on city
property, Jackson says there is a good rule of thumb -- not always
accurate but most times pretty close. Look for the water meter. The
meter will be on the edge of the city right of way. Between the
meter and the residence is homeowner responsibility; between the
meter and curb belongs to the city.
There is one exception to the property rule, and that is if
anyone has a concern about an ash tree. The property owner can
contact Jackson, who will come out with John Fulton of the
University of Illinois Extension office and check the tree for
emerald ash borer. This borer is a new threat to many of our lovely
trees. Infestation is difficult to identify, hard to treat, and
there is little success. Eradication plans include removal of
infested trees. (See article:
Emerald ash borers found in central Illinois)
When asked about the future of the tree farm, Jackson says that
he would like to expand the farm, which would require a different
He also says that he would like to work with a wider variety of
tree species. He cites the Kentucky coffee tree as being one example
of several species that he would like to replant in the city.
The Kentucky coffee tree is a hardy tree that has tremendous
resistance to ice, offers moderate shade and produces a pod that
stays on the tree through much of the winter. It is officially "Gymnocladus
diocus" but got its nickname of coffee tree because the beans in the
pods were used by pioneers to brew a coffeelike drink when real
coffee was not available.
Jackson says he would like to see the treescape of the city
returned to what it was a hundred years ago, when trees such as the
coffee tree were plentiful.
Information sources and related sites on the Web:
Do you know what
the state tree is?
here for the answer.
turn-of-the-century picture postcard and 2003 picture of the
same street are borrowed from D. Leigh Henson. Read more about
the city's battle with Dutch elm disease and other interesting
Lincoln facts from his Web pages:
Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA
[By NILA SMITH]
Past related article