Chattanooga: Grass-roots efforts boost tree count downtown

Chattanooga: Grass-roots efforts boost tree count downtown

March 9th, 2009 by Anne Braly in Local Regional News

Downtown trees are taking root, thanks to a grass-roots campaign started last year. To date, volunteers have planted 620 trees in downtown Chattanooga neighborhoods as part of the Take Root campaign.

In 2006, Mayor Ron Littlefield signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which committed Chattanooga to cutting carbon dioxide emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels. The next year Leadership Chattanooga, with the assistance of city forester Gene Hyde, formulated the project and hired Preston Roberts as its coordinator.

The most recent and final plantings for the 2008-09 season occurred in the Fort Negley/Read Avenue neighborhood, where maple trees were planted.

"It's always a good plan to have a diversity of trees," Mr. Roberts said.

Volunteers planted 31 different species from the Tennessee River south to Interstate 24, east to Central Avenue and west to Riverside Drive. Varieties include small crepe myrtles, crabapples and redbuds; medium-sized trees such as maples and Chinese pistache; and large ones such as pin oaks, willow oaks and black gum, Mr. Roberts said.

And so far, they have survived.


Coinciding with Arbor Day celebrations around the nation this weekend, Take Root unveils its newly designed Web site at

"We planted during the dormant season," he said. "We picked out quality trees to begin with, so the crucial part will come when is the leaves come out. We'll need to keep them watered."

Watering will be accomplished with two trucks, one a tanker provided by the city that will fill 20-gallon green irrigation bags located near each tree.

"And I've got my own truck to go around as needed," Mr. Roberts said.

The benefits of trees in urban areas are many, Mr. Hyde said. In addition to helping absorb carbon emissions, they provide shade, which counteracts the heat brought on by concrete and asphalt baking in the sun all day.

"When shade helps cool the downtown, there's a cost savings because of less air conditioning needed and also a reduction of air pollution caused by coal-generating plants used to produce electricity," Mr. Hyde said.

Trees also help with stormwater runoff, help absorb pollutants in the air and provide a home for birds and other wildlife.

The city's goal is to have the downtown zone planted with a 15 percent canopy of tree cover, a number recommended by American Forests, a national organization based in Washington, D.C.

"It's a good goal, a great thing to shoot for," Mr. Hyde said, adding that the current canopy cover in the downtown area is 7 percent.

Mr. Roberts said they hope about 800 more trees can be planted in the downtown zone within the next year or two.

But that will take more money. The first 620 trees were planted at an estimated cost of $88,000 obtained through private and corporate funding, as well as a $100,000 grant from the Benwood Foundation and a matching $12,000 state grant. Chattanooga has not provided financial support, but the city has provided offices for Take Root and consultation services by Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Roberts said the group this spring will push to obtain more funding and spread the message of Take Root and the importance of trees throughout the community.