April is Earth Month, and this coming Thursday, April 4, volunteers will be working alongside members of the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy and public works employees to beautify Spalding Circle with the planting of 25 new trees. The endeavor is an outgrowth of the ad hoc aboretum committee, which worked with the municipality in 2009-2010 to create a succession plan for the many older trees that had died or were dying in Mt. Lebanon’s parks and parklets. Ron Block, a landscape designer who is now president of Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy, developed the plan along with members of the ad hoc committee and Public Works Director Tom Kelley, who supervises all municipal parks. They selected a large variety of trees that would be beautiful in all four seasons, as well as suitable for long-term survival in Western Pennsylvania’s environment. Among the trees selected were Black gum, Bald Cypress, Homestead Elm, Sourwood, Horse Chestnut, Cornelian Cherrry, Kentucky Coffeetree and Bur Oak. (Some are pictured throughout this story.)
The ad hoc arboretum committee submitted the Spalding Circle plan as part of the application that resulted in Mt. Lebanon receiving a Tree City Growth Award in 2010. Block and Janice Seigle of the arboretum (also a landscape designer and then a member of the parks advisory board) presented the plan to the parks advisory board in early January 2011. Several weeks later, Block, Seigle and Kelley presented the plan to the Commission in public discussion and talked about possible ways to fund it. (The Commission welcomed the park beautification plan but was not able to fund it for 2012.) Fortunately, last year, the national TreeVitalize program expanded from the cities to the suburbs, making Mt. Lebanon eligible. Kelly and Block met with TreeVitalize representatives at Spalding Circle in June 2012. TreeVitzalize made recommendations for improving the plan, and encouraged Mt. Lebanon to apply. The Spalding Circle beautification project is now moving forward as the result of a TreeVitalize grant that Mt. Lebanon Conservancy applied for and received through the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, http://www.paconserve.org/216 . Block was notified of the grant last month.
Marking the entrance to the Woodhaven and Longuevue drives, Spalding Circle is a large triangular parklet that has lost many of its trees over the past several decades and will lose most of the remaining older trees over the next three or four years, according to Kelley. Planting new trees there and removing some dead or dying trees is part of a larger municipal goal, which is to preserve and diversify the canopy of trees that distinguishes Mt. Lebanon. Several varieties of existing park and street trees , including elms, ash and oaks, are dying in great numbers because of pest infestation. In addition, many of our larger trees have become problematic because of their interference with electric wires.
Block served on Mt. Lebanon’s historic preservation board prior to becoming president of the Conservancy, so he not only knows trees but he knows that parklets such as Spalding Circle that create distinctive entrances to our subdivisions are critical elements of Mt. Lebanon’s historic design as an early automobile suburb. The parklets, in fact, are specifically included in the nomination of a large section of Mt. Lebanon to the National Register of Historic Places that the historic preservation board currently is preparing to submit.
As a parent whose children played in the park, Block also is aware that the park serves many uses. While some people simply enjoy driving by and looking at it or strolling through it, the park is also used for informal recreation—pee wee soccer or pickup baseball games, dog walking, hitting golf balls, playing in the snow or relaxing with a book. Block says he took these patterns of use into consideration when selecting trees and drawing up the plan for their placement.
Although most comments Mt. Lebanon Commissioners have received about the project have been positive, says Commission President Matt Kluck, several people have expressed concern that the new trees might interfere with recreation or pose safety issues. Kelley says that safety is always a consideration when making park improvements and that it was a consideration in this case. Several trees have already been relocated as the result of citizens’ and staff suggestions.
Commissioner Kelly Fraasch, who helped organize the volunteers and will be working with them on Thursday morning commends Block for the amount of time he has given to this project and is grateful that, as usual, when asked to help, residents quickly responded. Volunteers will enjoy food and beverages donated by local restaurants and vendors.
Officials are confident that once the trees are planted and the result is visible, people will appreciate the beautification effort. In the meantime, anyone with questions is welcome to call Kluck at 412-341-2062 or Block at 412-496-7217.
“Our main purpose is to continue the beautification of the parks, so that a diverse group of residents can use and enjoy them,”Kluck says,. “We have a parks improvement plan, and we’re going to stick to it.”
Featured image courtesy of Simon Howden Freed / FreeDigitalPhotos.net