Middlebury Rotarians find home for 48 trees

MIDDLEBURY — Rotary International has for the past 113 years planted seeds of hope throughout the world by helping people get clean water, food, inoculations against disease, and education.
Now members of the massive service group are planting trees — as many as 1.2 million of them worldwide, one for each Rotarian. The project is the brainchild of the organization’s international president, Ian Riseley of Australia, who’s championing the effort as a way of promoting sound environmental stewardship.
The 48 members of the Middlebury Rotary Club are fully on board with the tree planting initiative. Members of the group are introducing 48 crabapple trees — one for each member — in the town’s recreation park off Mary Hogan Drive.
“I’m thrilled with the project,” said Middlebury Rotary Club President Tom Telling, who sees it as a legacy that will bloom for generations. “We’re really happy to be working with the town to get this going.”
Rotary member Bill Kernan said the group began planning the tree project last fall, after Riseley issued the challenge. Members discussed what kind of trees to purchase and where they could be planted. The club first considered placing them near Middlebury’s new recreation center, but reasoned that might not be a great idea because of all of the contiguous playing fields. Members next considered the town’s recreation park, and brought the idea to the Mary Hogan Elementary School board, which presides over the space. The board gave its OK, for a fairly damp site that fronts the Frank Mahady Courthouse.
Next, the local Rotarians searched for a tree vendor, and struck a deal with Cobble Creek Nursery in Monkton. Kernan placed the project costs at just under $8,000. Individual Rotarians have thus far pledged a combined total of $4,700, leaving approximately $3,000 more to raise, according to Kernan.
Citizens will have a chance to help underwrite those costs. The trees will carry naming opportunities, for people who want to honor a friend or loved one. The same will be true for each of the large marble blocks that will serve as seating at the site. Those blocks are being salvaged from the downtown Middlebury rail bridges site, according to Kernan. Plans call for donation of $100 to name a tree and $250 for each of the anticipated six marble block benches, Kernan said.
Rotary members began planting some of the larger, anchor trees on Saturday, May 19. The group was scheduled to plant the remaining trees this past Saturday, May 26. Kernan said several different crabapple varieties are being planted to produce an array of colors when the blossoms are in bloom.
“It will be a beautiful grove of trees when it’s all done,” Kernan said. “And it will frame the courthouse nicely.”
Lillian Prior Snow is coordinating the planting. She said the trees will be arranged in a “tight grid pattern” in two groupings with a walking path in between.
“The intention is to encourage an engagement with us both visually and physically, to beckon our attention and invite us to explore further and even hang around for a while,” she wrote in a statement explaining the project.
“Visitors will be able to enjoy the myriad colors and the fragrance of spring blossoms and the shade in the summer, and to watch the birds eating colorful fruits in the fall,” Snow added.
Middlebury Rotary will maintain a pruning schedule for the first two years, or until the new plantings are well established. The town of Middlebury will be responsible for watering the trees as necessary and eventually take over their maintenance.
Local Rotarians will hold a dedication ceremony later this year at which a plaque will be placed at the site to honor those who contributed to the endeavor.
Kernan appreciates the long lasting benefits of the trees. They will absorb pollution and create shade. They will increase water recharge in the underlying soil, and prevent runoff and erosion. They will produce oxygen, use carbon dioxide and therefore improve public health. They will slow global warming by storing carbon.
They’ll also be pretty to look at and last a long, long time if properly nurtured.
“This is going to be here long past us,” Kernan said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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