When a number of trees were removed on the property at 10 South Chestnut Street in New Paltz, it was members of the village’s Shade Tree Commission that pushed for replacements to be planted. The most prominent tree that was taken out — the mulberry which was growing along the road right near Bacchus — is technically not part of those legal procedures, and it’s also not dead. That particular tree was removed by Central Hudson employees who were replacing the adjacent utility pole, which is why taking it down didn’t run afoul of village tree laws. As to why it’s not dead, that’s thanks to Jason Rosenberg.
Rosenberg has been the chairman of the Shade Tree Commission for several years, but his interest in the health of trees dates back much further than that. He cuts a distinctive figure as he wanders the streets of the village: a man with a blond beard and piles of thick dreadlocks atop his head, picking fruits and flowers off trees and other plants as he passes by, and eating them. When he saw the trunk of the mulberry tree after the chainsaws had done their worst, he said to himself, “That tree can be saved.” He knew that it’s possible for a mulberry to grow back from just a root ball, so he arranged to keep this one from going into the chipper. It’s now planted along the banks of the Wallkill, where it will one day again yield berries for birds, humans and any other creature that has a hankering for some.
It’s not the only tree that Rosenberg has saved from destruction, either. He regularly looks through piles of brush cut by village employees to keep roads and sidewalks clear, on the lookout for branches and roots that might yield new trees. Then there’s the ones he’s trying to nurse back from abuse, like the apple that was run over by a truck more than once, or the sapling that had its bark and much of its heartwood uncoiled by passersby in the night. For younger trees, one of the greatest enemies is the weed whacker; Rosenberg puts cages around the trees he’s growing to protect them from people who don’t see the value in weeding by hand. The ones he saves get nurtured in pots outside his home, or in friends’ yards, until they’re ready for a permanent home. Once upon a time he used a plot at the Gardens for Nutrition to raise his trees, but that’s against the rules in that community garden. Instead, he uses his position on the commission to identify private and public property where each tree might do well.
Self-educated on the different species and their characteristics, he thinks carefully about the best location for a planting. Shorter, flowering trees are more suitable under power lines, because they’re less likely to be cut back to keep the electricity flowing. Mulberry and hazelnut are good choices along the riverbank, because their roots are particularly good stabilizers. Trees that bear edible fruits and nuts, though, are his particular passion, and he’s helped turn the banks of the Wallkill past the village’s sewage treatment plant into a living feast. Hazelnut, mulberry, apple, peach, persimmon and pear grow in this sumptuous, verdant orchard; there’s even a paw paw tree that should bear fruit in a few years’ time. As he inspects and samples, his knowledge comes to the fore. Hackberry trees get pollinated by wasp galls on their leaves, a process which could be disrupted by raking beneath them. Sugar berry trees produce a fruit that he calls the “prototype of peanut M&Ms:” a tasty nut, surrounded by sweet meat and a crunchy shell. Linden flowers are not only edible, but have prebiotic characteristics, nurturing the body’s microorganisms. Raspberries, currants (both red and black), and lilies grow along the river and throughout the area bordered by its banks, the community gardens, and the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary.
There are many other locations where Rosenberg has used his knowledge and skills to bring more trees to the village. The commission has a budget for buying trees, which is over and above the ones he saves from an ignominious end. While the area by the Wallkill is particularly verdant, Rosenberg is always on the lookout for property owners who are interested in new trees, especially if they’re willing to commit to watering them. Trees are thirsty plants, and it’s especially important to get them sufficient water after they are transplanted. The village owns a water truck, and DPW employees can use it to help that effort, but Rosenberg has found that homeowners who are looking at the same tree day in and day out have a personal investment in a particular tree’s success.
Although he was able to save the mulberry from in front of 10 Chestnut, many other trees were cut down behind and alongside those two buildings. Owner Wayne Bradford has agreed in court to include tree plantings in a more extensive application before the Planning Board, but that paperwork has not yet been submitted. Rosenberg is sensitive to the impact that clear-cutting had from the vantage point of the Mountain Laurel School, and would like to see mature replacements put in the ground as soon as possible. It’s not too late in the summer to do so, either: there’s a vendor in Kingston with some older trees growing on a hillside, which he said means they are slightly drought-stressed and thus would tolerate transplanting more easily. Together with some hedge rows and flowering trees under the power lines, he thinks a very nice vista could be installed this year.
However, when village building inspector Bryant Arms brought Bradford to court over delaying the process since last year, town justice James Bacon dismissed the case based on Bradford’s word that the paperwork would be filed in short order. That was in May.
It’s clear that Rosenberg would rather be digging holes and planting trees than dealing with nuances of the justice system, but it’s also clear that he recognizes there are many strategies that must be pursued in order to maximize the tree canopy of New Paltz. They are equally valid, but only one of them is also tasty.
Editor’s note: The willingness of residents to serve their communities plays a large role in what makes our towns so great. This is the first in a series of stories which will focus on volunteer committees/commissions and how their activities change a town’s local color. If you’d like to suggest a group to be included in this series, please e-mail editor Deb Alexsa at email@example.com.