Two years ago, the Astoria Parks and Recreation Department contemplated destroying a giant: an iconic 150-year-old moss-covered bigleaf maple in Alderbrook’s Violet LaPlante Park with an infected and rotting dual trunk.
Through thinning and other measures, the department was able to save the tree for now, but Parks and Recreation Board member Jessica Schleif said then that she hoped the city would one day catalog important and historic trees, old trees that are “really special to us in this community.”
A new tree inventory comes close to accomplishing this goal.
On Monday, the Astoria City Council accepted a report by ArborPro that looked at 1,860 tree sites across the city’s parks, recording the size, species and condition of individual trees. It provides a sort of roadmap for the parks department, said Jonah Dart-McLean, parks maintenance supervisor.
“It’s a great starting point, actually,” he told city councilors.
He was pleasantly surprised to find that over the sprawling city park system, “we’re fortunate to have some pretty healthy trees.”
The city allocated $30,000 for the inventory. Completed in June, the report highlights immediate and future maintenance needs, said Parks Director Angela Cosby, and is a way to provide “intelligent stewardship,” added Dart-McLean.
“We’re going to be playing catch-up for probably a year or two,” Cosby said, adding that, in the long run, the inventory will save the department money.
This is good news for a parks department plagued by financial woes in the recent past.
“I’m glad to hear some positive news from the parks department,” City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill said.
While the department’s facilities, responsibilities and costs have grown over the years, its revenue and full-time staff have not kept pace. Cosby has had to cut some programs and considered closing the Aquatic Center this summer. Over the past six months, the City Council discussed numerous ways to sustain the parks department into the future, finally settling on an increase to the lodging tax as the main way to bring in more money.
A master plan finalized last year was an attempt to focus the parks department’s efforts and resources. The department had no system in place before that to guide how it developed existing parks or established new ones. As a result, some parks and projects slipped through the cracks over the years.
It was a similar story with the trees, too. Park staff dealt with obvious problems — safety hazards created by fallen trees or the issues with the Violet LaPlante maple — but had no overall sense of tree health or maintenance needs across the city’s parklands.
The parks department is in the process of hiring a grounds coordinator. The coordinator will be required to obtain arborist certification 18 months after being hired, and continue the work highlighted in the inventory. Though the department will likely continue to contract out big and more complex projects, Cosby said more projects can be completed in-house with a trained arborist on staff.
The comprehensive inventory also came with software to help the department track a given tree or, in heavily wooded areas like Cathedral Tree Trail where identifying each individual tree wasn’t possible, a representative sample of an area. Park staff can use this software to constantly update information about the trees.
After all, Dart-McLean pointed out, the inventory is a snapshot of a certain point in time in the lives of these trees. In five years — or even after winter storms this year — everything could change.
“It’s an interesting thing to manage for,” Dart-McLean said. “It’s not like in five years these trees will be the same trees.”