Planting a legacy of trees for Durham

Community planting set for February 22
Jan. 11, 2014 @ 01:28 PM

Trees growing in urban landscapes are a good thing. The list of benefits they convey is impressive: health, beauty, quality of life, property values … it goes on and on.

Keeping a viable canopy of shade trees above Durham’s urban streetscape, however, is a challenge. The old trees planted back in the first half of the 20th century make up the most obvious component of our urban canopy, but what happens when they come down? Making the decision to allow a tree to be removed is never easy, but there comes a time when it becomes a necessity. Once a tree has been removed and the stump has been ground, what then?

Sadly, replacement is not automatic. Durham has done well to plant trees on new construction and upgrade projects (such as the Martin Luther King Boulevard Median, for example), but replacement in residential neighborhoods is contingent upon someone requesting and committing resources toward purchasing and watering the new tree. Over time a program of partnerships between the city and various neighborhood associations has evolved, through which a handful of neighborhoods have kept a good percentage of their available tree planting sites occupied. However, there are many areas of the city where replacement has not happened for decades.

In recent years, the city has been successful in securing grants to help replace trees. In 2009, over 100 trees were planted in sections of North Duke and North Gregson streets as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act’s call for “shovel-ready” projects along highway rights-of-way.  Last year, a grant of $10,000 from BP/Family Fare was used to replace trees lost along Lakewood/University Drive and to provide trees for the new Black Wall Street Plaza across from City Hall.  More recently, the City received funding from a UPS grant along with funds from the North Carolina Urban Forest Council to replace missing trees along North and South Driver streets.

The North Carolina Urban Forest Council is a relatively small but committed non-profit with a mission to preserving and sustaining urban forests in North Carolina.  Since 2009, it has provided funding through its Legacy Tree Fund to help communities across the state plant trees. So far these trees have been planted in blighted commercial districts, in small tornado-damaged towns and on campuses and schoolyards. Funding has been provided based upon a combination of need, demonstration of sound design and arboricultural practice, and the potential for educational outreach in the recipient communities.

In our case, the site of the tree planting will be on the north end of Driver Street, in the historic heart of East Durham.

This is an area where residents have requested few replacements, but the need is greater than the residents’ matching funds could hope to address. The combination of Legacy Tree grant funds and matching contributions from the City and Keep Durham Beautiful will allow for more than70 new trees to be planted. 

The new trees will need the help and support of the community at large, though.  The planting date for these trees has been set for Feb. 22 and all interested residents are invited to help in this great community effort.  Those interested in participating should contact me at , or Tania Dautlick with Keep Durham Beautiful at . 

Also, the Legacy Tree Fund can only continue with support from the recipient communities. Since Durham was the recipient this year, it’s contingent upon us to help support the fund so it can plant trees in another deserving community next year. This funding strategy only works when people of good will are willing to “pay it forward,” so please visit the NCUFC website ( and make a contribution. 

Alex Johnson is urban forestry manager for the City of Durham.