By Jan Worth-Nelson
Mike Keeler and Andy Everman are two of the city trees’ best friends.
Keeler, president of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association, and Everman, a board member of the Genesee Conservation District and ardent advocate for city trees, are making the rounds now with their water wagon — a contraption devised to make use of water from Gilkey Creek.
The combination of two donated 55-gallon plastic barrels, some hose, and a $109 pump paid for out of Keeler’s pocket has enabled the pair to assure that about 50 new seedlings planted in the city parkways this spring will have the best chance to survive.
The baby trees were meant to begin replacing about 180 aging and in many cases decrepit old trees in the neighborhood, removed in a blitz by city contractors over the past year to the alarm of some CCNA residents. The removals last year prompted action by the CCNA, led by Keeler, a trained wildlife biologist and Sierra Club activist, to examine and assess decisions made by the Genesee Conservation District.
The GCD is a state body governed by an elected board and delegated by the City of Flint to manage its parkway trees — the space between the sidewalk and street.
The removals were part of implementation of a city-wide tree study and urban forestry plan done in 2015 which aimed to inventory every tree in the city’s parkways and identify which needed attention or were dead and called for removal. CCNA residents and the GCD disagreed in some cases on the criteria for removal, with CCNA residents advocating for trimming and maintenance even for the older trees.
GCD administrator Angela Warren, herself a CCN resident, said while she and her staff too love trees, the cost involved in maintaining especially the older trees — many of which were planted in the 1930s and are at the end of the life cycle — was in many cases prohibitive for a city straining to meet its financial obligations.
Of the 30,000 parkway trees inventoried in the 2015 study, about 4,000 were identified for “immediate removal” and another 2,000 for “critical removal.”
And city officials and the GCD contended there were few funds for replacements of the downed trees — which is where the CCNA stepped in, quickly collecting $4,000 in donations for new trees. Then the city declined to give permission for planting in the parkways, citing a lack of funds for tree maintenance.
Keeler and Everman say a private, anonymous donor is offering a substantial sum for tree replacements city-wide, with details still in the planning stages.
In the meantime, new seedlings have sprung up in the parkways, planted surreptitiously by people neighbors have been calling “the tree fairies.”
The pump is useful in two ways, Keeler explained: to take in creek water, at about 30 gallons/minute, and then to pump the water out through the hoses through a sprinkler for the watering itself. Keeler said he has been using the system on the flowers in his front yard on Maxine Street.
Keeler said he approached a city official several years ago with the idea of using creek water for watering his flowers, and was assured there was no ordinance prohibiting it. As Everman pointed out, “No one can own public water.”
Keeler and Everman said they hope other neighborhoods will replicate their inexpensive water wagon system for helping maintain young trees, and they’re happy to share it.
In previous interviews with EVM, Warren said City of Flint officials have stated it’s a priority — part of the city’s latest Master Plan, in fact — to maintain the city’s urban canopy, and they are attempting to find funds available for planting new trees. However, the existing budget, she has explained, covers only about 100 tree replacements for the whole city this year.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.