Downtown Chattanooga canopy doubles in 3-year-long planting effort

FAST FACTSFrom November 2011 through January 2012, Take Root planted 170 trees, primarily in the expanded central business district. Projects include:* Tulip, poplar, overcup oak, redbud, American fringetree and American elm trees along Riverfront Parkway near the M.L. King Boulevard intersection* Trident maple, redbud and Autumn Blaze maple along Read Avenue between Main Street and 20th Street* Redbud and laurel oak on the south side of Jefferson ParkSource: Preston Roberts, Take Root

North Chattanooga got a little cooler Wednesday as tree planting organization Take Root and volunteers from sponsor Rock/Creek placed the last of 16 shady American elms along Dallas Road in North Chattanooga.

When Take Root began planting in November 2008, its mission was to increase Chattanooga's downtown canopy cover, which stood at 7 percent.

Now, Project Coordinator Preston Roberts said, "We have nearly reached our 15 percent goal."

The organization has raised nearly $300,000 from private donors, neighborhood associations and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and planted about 1,500 trees. As it completes lingering planting projects, Take Root plans to put more emphasis on education and sustainability.

Though the organization works with a variety of species, Wednesday's planting was especially meaningful. American elms dotted the surrounding countryside before being wiped out by the fungal Dutch elm disease in the past century.

To reintroduce the historic species, Take Root selected a strain called Princeton that is bred to resist Dutch elm disease.

Rock/Creek marketing director Mark McKnight said the outfitting company also chose to buy older, 12-foot trees for about $187 each because they have a better chance of survival.

McKnight emphasized the lesser-known benefits of planting trees, such as absorbing stormwater runoff and possibly lowering instances of asthma in children. He is particularly interested in trees' effect on urban heat islands. Shady areas, he said, can be 10 degrees cooler than sunny areas.

"It really has a big effect on local houses. ... If you can bring the temperature down, our air conditioners don't have to work as hard," he said.

This leads to lower energy bills and decreased coal dependence, he said.

As Take Root completes more projects, the group's attention is shifting toward educating Chattanooga to care for the new trees. The Citizen Forester Program offers weekend classes on plant care and last summer gave away two trees to every student to encourage individuals to carry on the organization's work.

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