The newly reconstituted New Paltz Village Shade Tree Commission is taking to the streets, empowering youth, educating the public and monitoring the trees that once made the village a Tree City USA designation. During the tenure of the previous Village Board, the Shade Tree Commission, which is in charge of approving or denying applications to take down trees that are within 20 feet of a Village road curb line, lost its volunteers and eventually the long-held Shade Tree USA distinction on which New Paltz had prided itself for decades.
That said, after more than three dozen village volunteers showed up this past June to offer their services to the newly elected Village Board, a five-member Shade Tree Commission was formed, trained and is being led by chair Jason Rosenberg, a botanist, along with longtime Village resident and horticulturist Christine Marmo, landscaper Rich Cusano and two SUNY-New Paltz students: Michael Conway and Joe Ruotolo.
They have hit the ground running, going through a basic training as to what the Shade Tree Commission’s regulatory responsibilities are, and then set up two workshops at the New Paltz Youth Center, where they worked with and taught young students how to make sauce out of local pears and apples and then how to harvest and make tasty treats out of locally harvested nuts. Their third event on Nov. 9 is an open invitation to the public and will center on the planting of a weeping peach tree, donated by Agway, near the corner of Joalyn Road and Main Street to signify the entrance into the village with a “Welcome to the Village of New Paltz” sign.
“We’re so fortunate to have such energetic and knowledgeable people on this commission, like Christine Marmo and Jason Rosenberg and Rich Cusano,” said Conway. “We learn so much from them, and Jason is really the driving force behind so many of these workshops and events.”
“Rosenberg is like a walking encyclopedia on plants and trees and fruit, and he’s been such an inspiration to us,” added Ruotolo.
What the commission did was to collect pears and crabapples that had fallen on the ground within the village, and then worked with the kids at the Youth Center to peel, slice and cook them into a warm, tasty dessert. Ironically, most of the pears came from a tree on the middle school grounds. “The kids were asking where we got the pears, and it was funny because many of them are middle school students and didn’t even realize they had this amazing tree right on school grounds. It’s still dropping fruit!”
The second workshop had commissioners, youth and volunteers harvesting black walnuts and chestnuts that were falling all over the village, particularly during the heavy rain and wind events. “Many property-owners think of them as a pain, but really they’re a delicious local resource,” said Conway.
“We shelled the nuts for them, but once we did that, they cracked them and then helped us sauté them in coconut oil, which produced a gourmet snack!” said Ruotolo, who added how “helpful Jim Tinger [director of the New Paltz Youth Program] was in making these workshops happen. He’s so amazing with those kids, and has boundless energy. He’s amazing.”
While youth outreach has been one goal of the new commission, they have also received three applications from property-owners wanting to take down trees within the village right-of-way, and had to negotiate with a property-owner who took down several shade trees without first applying. According to Ruotolo, the owner of 211 Main Street had a company come in and take down two maples and two linden trees without having applied to the Shade Tree Commission.
“It wasn’t purposeful, as there had been a lapse since we had a functioning commission, but we did notify the property-owner and the company once we began getting calls of concern,” said Ruotolo. “The owner was very apologetic and said he was willing to replant new trees. The commission worked with him to choose trees that would not reach to the power lines, which is often a problem in terms of trimming and tree-taking, and others that would be suitable for the wetter part of his property.”
As the two SUNY-New Paltz students have learned much from their fellow commissioners, they feel that education is the most important piece of protecting, maintaining and properly planting trees. They are now going through an inventory that was done several years ago of all village shade trees. “We need to learn what’s here, what happened before we came on board and what our plan is to ensure the safety and maintenance of existing shade trees or replanting of ones that have come down,” said Conway.
To that end, the commission is reaching out to the village community for an “adopt-a-tree” program where an individual, a couple, friends or a family donate a tree to be planted, contribute toward the maintenance of a tree and would get a plaque in return for their financial contribution. “It’s similar to ‘adopt-a-highway,’” explained Conway. “We also want to reach out to our local nurseries to donate trees for planting and put a plaque that would advertise their contribution toward our Tree Village!”
Anyone interested in participating with protecting, maintaining or replanting Village trees should contact the commission at email@example.com. Everyone is invited to attend the Nov. 9 weeping peach tree-planting on the corner of Joalyn Road and Main Street, where the Shade Tree Commission, along with students from the New Paltz Youth Center Program will not only plant the symbolic “Welcome to the Village of New Paltz” tree and sign, but also engage in phyto-remediation around the peach tree.
According to the two SUNY students, who are also members of the college’s Sustainable Agriculture Club, phyto-remediation is the planting of specific herbaceous plants — annuals and deciduous plants — that not only produce eye-catching blooms, but, even more importantly, uptake heavy metals deposited by vehicular traffic, particularly diesel-driven trucks. “Certain plants have the amazing ability to take in these major toxic pollutants through their roots and then process them, through beautiful blooms that are non-toxic,” said Ruotolo. “That’s just amazing. We want to do it all over the village, especially since we have these trucks going down Main Street all day, every day. Why not plant gorgeous plants that blossom while taking out the lead from the ground and detoxifying it?” ++