In the pages of a calendar filled with inspirational messages, Brenda Smith found one a few years ago that she likes to repeat:
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
For Ms. Smith, executive director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association in Wilkinsburg, the message has become the mantra.
Her organization is nearly halfway through a two-year project to plant 500 trees in Wilkinsburg. The venture is the result of a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Investment Authority and a partnership between the borough of Wilkinsburg, TreeVitalize and the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.
Communities often overlook planting trees when budgets get stretched by other priorities such as installing street lighting and repairing streets, said Bob Crusan, an arborist with Urban Forestry Consultants, Inc.
But there are reasons communities should plant trees -- to control stormwater runoff, improve air quality and make business districts more welcoming. Mr. Crusan, who has worked as an arborist for Wilkinsburg since 2000, said the community needs more, younger trees of different types.
"Even though it is a fairly well-treed community, the age and composition is to the point where you are not going to have any younger trees, and there is a need for fairly extensive replanting," Mr. Crusan said.
The goal of the tree-planting initiative is to have all 500 trees, which are purchased from a Butler County tree farm when they are 5 to 7 years old, in place by the end of 2012 or early 2013.
By the end of this spring season, about 270 trees will have new roots in Wilkinsburg. Among them are a 15-foot hedge maple planted in March along a sidewalk on South Trenton Avenue and seven cherry, tulip and river birch trees planted in the yards of a new housing development at South Avenue and South Trenton Avenue.
Most of the new trees are firmly rooted in their new spots, but a few have been destroyed, and on a recent morning, a Japanese lilac tree on South Trenton Avenue was surrounded by a pile of trash.
A newly planted tree needs water and care to grow, especially in its first two years, so when the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association recruits volunteers to plant the trees, many of them are residents of Wilkinsburg.
"We really want the community to take ownership of the trees and recognize the value and understand why we are planting them, that they are not just for beautification, that they are going to deliver a lot of services to the community," Ms. Smith said.
Wilkinsburg resident Marsha Robinson, 64, has long had "a thing for trees."
"If you walk down the street, and no matter how raggedy the buildings are or if the paint is peeling, if you walk down the street and there are trees there, it makes you want to move in and fix up the house," she said.
Yet in the past few years she watched as trees in her neighborhood -- the area around West Street -- were cut down as they grew old.
Earlier this year, two young birch oaks were planted next to the street in front of Ms. Robinson's home. Every Sunday, unless it is raining, Ms. Robinson waters them faithfully so she can enjoy them when she grows old.
It's a hopeful thing, planting a tree. Alicia Donner, who has coordinated the tree planting project as part of her job at the watershed association, said she thinks about early 20th century photographs of people planting trees as she does her early 21st century planting.
"They didn't get to see that tree reaching maturity, but we are all reaping the benefits of what they did," she said.
It will take time, but eventually the trees' branches will provide shade, their leaves will provide fresh air and their roots will soak up rain water. Twenty years from now, as Wilkinsburg's older trees age past their useful life, the new trees may have been planted at the best time.homepage - region - environment - neigh_east