When you think of a forest or woods you probably picture a natural forest of trees such as found in our National Forests. But there is also a planting of trees we would refer to as an urban forest.
Much of what the national Arbor Day Foundation addresses is this urban forest, found along roads, in parks, parking lots, and in small communities all the way up to big cities. The town of Cedaredge just finished planting three trees on Main Street as a part of their celebration of Arbor Day, a national date set aside for recognizing the importance of trees.
So what do urban forests do for us other than beautify our landscapes and provide valuable shade? For starters, they provide cleaner air, water, energy savings, asphalt surface protection, and even mental health benefits. So whether you call your town's "forest" an urban forest or a community forest, it doesn't matter, they are one and the same.
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 5.5 billion trees in our urban forests, consisting of trees we have deliberately planted. Over three-fourths of these trees are on private property. The remaining trees are found along streets, in parking lots, in parks, around large building complexes and on campuses. Even though most trees are found on private property, they all benefit the community as a whole.
The nation's urban forests produce a total benefit of over $18 billion related to air pollution control, reduced energy use, and carbon sequestration (a fancy word for converting CO2 to the oxygen we breathe, among other things).
So how is our health improved? Trees actually reduce our stress levels and help us cope with the demands of our everyday lives. They provide inviting places for us to gather but also provide screening when we want a little privacy from our neighbors. The clean air, clean water and reduced summer temperatures trees provide promote physical health and outdoor activities such as walking, jogging and bicycling.
Street and parking lot trees are what most people think of as an urban forest. Cities and towns determine who is responsible for these trees in public right-of-ways or easements through ordinances. This would include what kinds of trees can be planted, who cares for these trees and who is responsible for planting and removing these trees.
Parks and golf courses are other spaces where trees have a prominent role. We all love retiring to our parks when being active and seeking a respite from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And what would the game of golf be like if a tree didn't get in the way of a direst shot down the fairway?
Colleges, school campuses and hospitals are all good examples of places where trees are planted and contribute to our urban forests. What about cemeteries? Trees here provide shade and solace. And let us not forget the arboretums where one can find a multitude of various species of trees, all tagged with their name and sometimes more information. Cedaredge has a great one behind Pioneer Town and so does Grand Junction at Lincoln Park. Great places to go when trying to decide what kind of trees to plant.
One of the close by places I like to go to when seeking solitude and a place to walk is the Surface Creek Trail in Cedaredge. The sound of the rushing waters, of birds chirping, chipmunks scurrying and the surrounding trees provide a perfect environment for me to relax and enjoy our urban forest.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.