Indeed, times change. New priorities take root.
I remember when they tore out trees to build condos on what had been open lakefront green space next to Chautauqua Park. When I first came here, children used to fly kites there.
I remember when they tore out trees to halfway build condos on what had been public golf course land along Sunset Park. The abandoned, overgrown foundation is just about on the spot where I took my children sledding on the treelined hill when they were little.
I remember when they tore out trees to turn Mandeville Woods into a modestly-used disc golf course. We had prowled that wooded spot often hunting for different kinds of leaves for internal homework science projects.
I remember when they tore out trees in the Little Storm Lake Preserve to build an observation platform to view... other trees? We used to spend time there watching the waterbirds from the shore of a lovely little lake.
I remember when they tore out beautiful, mature trees to reconfigure the campground to fit more of those monster-size mansions-on-wheels, and got rid of the cottonwoods because their down was clogging up the patrons' expensive air conditioning units. (Air-conditioning? My how "roughing it" has changed).
I remember when we had trees downtown, back when people came just to stroll up and down the sidewalks and perhaps get a handful of candy at Ben Franklin. We took the pretty little trees out, or chopped them back until they gave up and died, because we were afraid of bird poop.
And now, Storm Lake is going to launch a trees program.
To teach people how to plant and properly care for trees. To inventory trees on public property. To begin a plan to develop more tree canopy, and in an emerging downtown vision, to eventually plan to plant some trees and green spaces around Lake Avenue where we once worked to chop them out, all in a city that has never really had a tree planting program or even a parks board.
Ironic? Just a touch.
But irony doesn't shade your picnic, and it's never hypocritical to begin doing the right thing.
Like anywhere else, over the years we've removed trees and green space to build homes for the wealthy, industries, tourist attractions, manmade beaches, golf courses, schools, whatever came up. We've even managed to remove green spaces to build... a Green Space.
Before you write me off as a goofy tree-hugger, let me say that the vast majority of the developments we've had have changed our community very much for the better. Sometimes sacrifices need to be made, land and trees included, for the greater good. It's not a tragedy to remove a tree, but it would be a mistake to allow your community over time to become deforested. We all know those towns that concentrate on strip malls, big-box stored and factories as "development" - they look and feel like glorified parking lots baking in the sun.
What you take out of nature, you need to put back.
That's why I'm happy to see the city jumping into a tree program, and sharing it with the public at some upcoming workshops. I hope people take advantage.
As a founder of the Living Heritage Tree Museum with the late Wilbur Tucker, I had to learn the value of trees in a hurry - what thrives here and what doesn't, estimating the space needed for branches and roots that won't be grown for 50 years, projecting rates of growth so that all your trees are not the same size at the same time, diversifying the population so that a particular disease or pest can't take out your whole tree stock, as the emerald elm borer is going to do to some Iowa towns. Just like you can in your own yard.
Storm Lake parks and other public places are blessed with thousands of wonderful mature trees, but a word of warning - a whole lot are of the same vintage, and will likely die off at the same time, which is not too far off.
We had better have a plan to replace them, preferably getting young trees well started before that time comes.
City Manager Jim Patrick has in the past suggested starting the city's own tree nursery. Some land remains at the wastewater plant site that could be used, or alternatively, there is some extra space west of the middle school. The idea was that BVU students in botany-related fields could provide some labor in return for using such a site as something of an outdoor classroom and research station. Good investment.
It's easy to overlook trees. They are not sexy developments like golf courses and resorts and playgrounds. Planting a tree doesn't make the front page. But it does make the air you breathe cleaner, it does provide shade and help keep energy bills down. They break up the wind that plagues our lake, and provides habitat necessary for the little creatures who inhabit our urban environment. It might not sound important, until you picture your local park, or your own neighborhood, without them. Beautiful Sunset Park Drive without that spectacular canopy of trees holding hands overhead... I don't want to see that day.
Joyce Kilmer wrote, "I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree." I don't know from poetry, but I do feel happier in a wooded park than in a parking lot.
Let 2015 be the year of regrowth in Storm Lake. Our city probably owes nature this one.