Foss: ReTree Schenectady makes the city better

Betsy Henry, center right, plants a tree in front of a home on Schuyler Street in Mont Pleasant in this 2014 file photo.
Betsy Henry, center right, plants a tree in front of a home on Schuyler Street in Mont Pleasant in this 2014 file photo.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Schenectady, you’ve seen the fruits of ReTree Schenectady’s labor. 

If you’ve spent time in Central Park or behind Proctors , you’ve seen it. 

If you’ve traveled the Eastern Avenue corridor, or driven down McClellan Street, or spent time on Union Street, you’ve seen. 

If you’ve been to any of Schenectady’s neighborhoods — Goose Hill, Hamilton Hill, the Stockade, Bellevue, to name a few — you’ve seen it. 

For more than two decades, ReTree Schenectady has been planting trees all over Schenectady — an effort that has made the city greener and healthier. 

Other projects might make a bigger splash, but this modest, all-volunteer initiative has been quietly transformative, and Schenectady is a more livable community because of it. 

Betsy Henry, ReTree Schenectady’s longtime president, estimates that the group has planted more than 3,000 trees over the past quarter century. 

That’s a lot. 

“We’ve had a big impact,” said Mike Tamasi, another longtime ReTree Schenectady member. “I can drive down any city street, pretty much, and say, ‘I planted that tree.'” 

Earlier this month, ReTree celebrated 20 years of bare-root tree planting. 

Unless you’re an arborist, this might not mean a lot, but it is significant. 

Bare-root trees are shipped with natural roots that have been dipped in a hydrating gel that keeps them moist, and adjust more quickly to transplanting because they haven’t been confined to a container. They are also, Henry told me, easier for volunteers to plant, which, given ReTree’s reliance on volunteers, is crucial to the group’s success.

“A volunteer can pick up and plant [a bare-root tree],” said Henry, who is an environmental scientist. “And you get a greater diversity of trees you can order.” 

ReTree Schenectady plants hardier trees more suited to an urban environment where pedestrians are more likely to tread on their roots and the use of road salt is common in cold weather. 

At a planting on Nov. 3, the group planted a mix of red oak, linden, elm, honeylocust, red maple, London plane tree, Japanese tree lilac, flowering cherry and flowering pear on Edward Street, Parkwood Avenue, Sumner Ave., Union Street and Avenue A. These new trees replaced trees removed in recent years due to damage and disease. 

ReTree might be done planting for the year, but the group’s work is far from finished. 

One exciting project will bring a splash of green to a street in need of sprucing up — Crane Street, in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. 

This rundown street — a mix of apartments and storefronts — has at least seven stone tree pits, but many of them are empty. That will change this spring when ReTree transplants new trees into the empty pits. 

This planting “will go a long way toward showing that someone is paying attention to Crane Street,” Mohamed Hafez, a member of the Mont Pleasant Merchants group that asked ReTree to plant on the street.

This is, incidentally, how ReTree typically decides where to plant — in response to requests from neighborhood associations and other local groups.

Trees do more than make a place look nice. 

They increase property values, reduce stormwater runoff, flooding and erosion, absorb pollutants and help clean the air and help people save on energy costs by providing shade and protection from the wind. 

For Henry and Tamasi, a big part of ReTree Schenectady’s appeal is that it instills civic pride. 

“It gets you talking to people,” Tamasi said. “We’re always looking for volunteers. Schenectady runs on volunteers.” 

“It gives people the sense they can do something in their neighborhoods,” Henry said. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion

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