Southwest to get nearly 1,000 new boulevard trees

Fills gaps left by blow-downs — but city-parks turf war complicates mom-and-apple-pie effort

This spring, the Armatage neighborhood will get 137 new boulevard trees and the Kenny neighborhood 131, an effort to rebuild the tree canopy lost to last summer’s windstorm.

An infusion of city money is paying for more than 25 percent of the new trees.

Last fall, Mayor R.T. Rybak sought to salt an otherwise austere budget with what he called a few "legacy" projects; one was to borrow an extra $200,000 to boost the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s traditional tree planting program. That would add approximately 2,000 new trees at $100 per tree.

The mayor made boulevard trees a priority after noticing tree gaps in some neighborhoods, particularly poorer ones, while making the National Night Out rounds.

The Park Board’s forestry division recently announced plans to plant 3,481 new boulevard trees this spring. The new city money is paying for 1,281, or 37 percent of the total. That is shy of the mayor’s goal of 5,000 trees this year.

The Park Board will have a second round of tree planting this fall — if the weather permits and staff isn’t overwhelmed with Dutch elm disease cleanup.

The Park Board released a neighborhood-by-neighborhood count of 2004 boulevard tree spring planting (see chart), including how many the city would fund.

The big winner is Central neighborhood just east of I-35W between Lake and 36th streets, which will get 549 new trees, including 527 paid by new city money.

Tree politics

Spending the new tree money was not as easy as it may seem. The mayor and some Park Board commissioners have been at odds.

Rybak has publicly criticized the Park Board for several issues, including its purchase of the new riverfront headquarters. The city also is charging the Park Board new "administrative" fees, further depleting a stressed budget. None of this sits will with most Park Board Commissioners.

Park Board member Bob Fine said he didn’t want to reject a gift tree, but questioned the new money’s significance in the face of the other Park Board budget cuts.

Park Board member Walt Dziedzic said while the trees were "a good thing, by the same token, I think it benefits him [Rybak] more than it does anyone else. It is something to build his campaign on."

Rybak responds with a line from his budget address: "I am fortunate that I grew up in a city where I could ride my bike on a tree-lined street. and I am going to do what I can to make sure other kids can do that, too," he said.

The planting

The Park Board usually spends $100,000 a year from its operating budget to plant trees, said Ralph Sievert, head of Park Board forestry. It typically gets another $100,000 for trees from Neighborhood Revitalization Program projects, Public Works projects and grants.

The new city money would double the planting and poses a challenge, he said. Spring planting gives trees the best chance at survival. If the spring weather doesn’t cooperate — winter’s cold lasts too long and/or summer’s heat arrives early — it narrows the planting window.

Further, once summer hits, crews are busy dealing with Dutch elm-diseased trees and tree pruning, he said.

The Park Board was going to use half the new city money, $100,000, for 2004 and the rest in 2005.

Rybak strongly opposed that plan, said Tracy Nordstrom, an East Calhoun horticulturalist and former Park Board candidate. The mayor asked her to help with the project. He wanted to get a total of 5,000 trees planted this year, she said.

Nordstrom said one mayoral idea was to use the second $100,000 and subsidize tree planting on private property.

That idea never took root. The city budget identified $200,000 for boulevard trees, not private trees, according to city staff. Even if the city changed the wording, it wasn’t clear the city could legally borrow money to subsidize private tree planting.

Whether or not the mayor gets his 5,000-trees-a-year wish will depend on the fall planting.

Sievert said the Park Board is doing a neighborhood-by-neighborhood boulevard tree inventory. He cautioned against reading too much into the 2004 neighborhood planting numbers.

"There are some neighborhoods that might be nine or four [trees], but yet there are reasons for that," Sievert said. "Someone looking at is going to go, ‘Ooh, wow. How come they are only going to get four trees?’"

The Park Board might have planted more trees in that neighborhood the year before, or it might be planning to plant a lot of trees next year, he said.