Tree planting a collaborative effort in Schenectady

An Arbor Day tree planting was held last year in Central Park in Schenectady. Joining Mayor Gary McCarthy were Betsy Henry, John Mishanec, Marion Porterfield, Steve Jones, Gary Richards, Susan Spring-Meggs and Tom Carey. (photo provided)

An Arbor Day tree planting was held last year in Central Park in Schenectady. Joining Mayor Gary McCarthy were Betsy Henry, John Mishanec, Marion Porterfield, Steve Jones, Gary Richards, Susan Spring-Meggs and Tom Carey. (photo provided)

SCHENECTADY Let’s talk trees. With Arbor Day coming up on April 29, it’s a good time to celebrate trees by planting one. Even more, the city of Schenectady would like community input on its new Community Forest Management Plan at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 26) at the Mont Pleasant Public Library.

The plan, which is currently available online on the city’s website (, is a 100-page document that details everything from the condition and types of the 11,545 trees in the city to how to maintain, protect and enhance Schenectady’s community’s forest.

“It’s exciting to be putting this in action after working on it the last two years,” said Alex Sutherland, the city’s director of operations. “The mayor has a zero-tolerance policy and wants to have as many trees planted as those we lose.”

People might remember the October 2020 storm that destroyed or damaged so many of the city’s trees and how National Grid stepped in and pledged $240,000 to the greater capital region, which included $80,000 to this county and city to replant trees as part of its 10,000 Trees and Growing Program. Then, in December 2020, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation provided $1.4 million in Urban Forestry Grants to state-wide communities to create a Tree Inventory and Management Plan. Schenectady was one of 38 recipients from 154 applications and received $61,200.

So, what has all this to do with trees?

Trees combat air pollution. They clean and use stormwater. They reduce heat effects. They improve mental health. They’re beautiful. They provide habitat for all kinds of creatures. They provide work for those who plant, maintain and grow them. They improve property values. They save energy with their shade in summer and as windbreaks in winter. And without them, we and all life on Earth would not continue to flourish.

All these facts are what’s behind why Betsy Henry and other concerned city residents founded ReTree Schenectady in 1991. Since then the group has planted more than 4,000 trees in the city and has taught volunteers how to plant and maintain them. They also won state DEC grants, drafted the city’s first Tree Master Plan and tree inventory, funded tree labels and provided a walking guide to trees in Central Park. But alliances with local schools, churches, and neighborhood groups aided the most.

“They helped tremendously,” Henry said. “Planting days involve dozens of volunteers sometimes at multiple planting sites throughout the city. By getting whole neighborhoods involved, tree planting is often the first step to civic engagement.”

ReTree also began a summer, six-week youth program last year to plant trees in underserved neighborhoods. Henry said she was expecting to hold that program again this year.

The focus on trees is also a connection to the Arbor Foundation, which this year is celebrating its 150th year. The group began in Nebraska when J. Sterling Morton, who had settled his family on a newly purchased plot of land, realized there were few trees on the site. With no windbreaks, fuel, building materials and shade from the hot sun, Morton began planting trees and eventually lobbied the state legislature to create a holiday to encourage other Nebraskans to plant. That first Arbor Day was April 10, 1872 and an estimated one million trees were planted that day. Arbor Day in New York is now the last Friday in April.

Besides Arbor Day celebrations, a city can gain community pride, better working relationships with state conservation agencies and provide a healthier environment for its citizens by becoming a TreeCity USA with the Arbor Foundation. Schenectady celebrates its twentieth year as a TreeCity, one of 3,400 communities in this country.

While the city gets geared up to eventually plant, Amsterdam is holding a tree giveaway on April 29 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Century Club of Amsterdam with seedlings provided by the Montgomery County Dept. of Soil and Water; and on April 30 at Saratoga Springs’ Pitney Meadows Community Farm, volunteers will farm out throughout the city to plant 53 saplings as part of the Sustainable Saratoga organization.

But local home owners might want to plant their own tree. Local nurseries, such as the Saratoga Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs has until May 13 thousands of tree seedlings suitable for this region available for purchase. The following is a list of trees from ReTree Schenectady that it recommends: For trees that will mature to less than thirty feet and are good for underwire situations: hedge maple, service berry, American hornbeam, Eastern redbud, hawthorn, Canada Red chokeberry, flowering cherry. For larger trees where size is not an issue: red maple, Katsura tree, gingko, Dawn redwood, blackgum, London planetree, flowering pear, elm hybrids, Crimean linden, Northern red oak, and Japanese zeikova.

And there’s a website,, which gives a homeowner information on the health and value of their trees.

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