Midpoint of Southern Indiana tree-planting initiative celebrated

NEW ALBANY — As the Lorax once said “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

The Dr. Seuss hero and speaker for the trees made a plea nearly 50 years ago to take care better care of wildlife. On Friday, it was made clear that officials from Ecotech LLC heeded his word and do care "a whole awful lot."

City of New Albany and company officials celebrated Ecotech LLCs nearing the midpoint of their drive to plant 10,000 trees in 10 years across Kentucky and Southern Indiana with the ceremonial planting of a lilac tree.

The ceremonial planting was the last of 25 to take place during the week to celebrating the push. The officials also went to Clarksville Little League Park, Silver Creek Primary School and Wooded View Golf Course in Clarksville.

According to Bryan Slade, president of Ecotech, the plan was hatched because the company “wanted to develop a philanthropy that would last a substantial or significant period of time.”

“We had discussed putting together a tree philanthropy. We are in the environment business, we like trees, there is a shortage of trees. The tree canopy is challenged here, so four or five years ago [Ecotech] made a decision to plant 10,000 trees in advance of 25th company anniversary.”

The decision was already made, but the Henryville Tornado “accelerated” things, Slade said.

“We went up there and of course everything was devastated, so our first tree plantings were at the Henryville schools,” he explained. Since then, nearly 5,000 trees have planted. Of those 1,500 have been in New Albany, Slade said.

“Primarily, what we try to do is look at one, people who will take outstanding care, custody and control of the trees cause there’s no reason to spend a whole lot of money on these trees to watch them die," Slade said. "We have great a partnership from Mayor [Jeff] Gahan and [city arborist Greg] Mills. They nurture the trees. Then we look at 'Can we get those into areas the public can see them?' Areas where families, for example, can enjoy the beauty of the trees. So parks, schools, we’ve done areas like that where you have a lot of family participation.”

Mills, the man behind the trees that go up, said the importance of “urban forests” dates back to the 19th century.

“It’s for the quality of life. It’s actually good for us creatures, emotionally, to be surrounded by greens," he said. "We’ve been doing that since the Civil War time. Look at Central Park, [Frederick Law] Olmsted did that. We’ve been recognizing the importance of being surrounded by greenery."

According to the Central Park Conservancy website, 750 acres was designated for the now-famous park in 1858 because “many socially conscious reformers understood that the creation of a great public park would improve public health and contribute greatly to the formation of a civil society.”

Olmsted was the agriculturist behind the park and is also responsible for the park system in Louisville.

When it comes to selecting trees for New Albany’s canopy, Mills went for variety and resilience.

“We plant trees that are tough and can stand the urban pressure,” he said. Along Oak Street, lilac and Japanese flowering pagoda trees have planted.

In addition to the natural beauty, Mills said tree-lined streets raise property values.

“This neighborhood is on the way back up," he said. "They’re redoing a lot of the older homes. Tree-lined streets increase value of the homes up to 25 percent. Since the people of neighborhood are doing their part to improve, the city, hand in hand, are doing our part,” he said.

For Slade, seeing the trees that have been planted around the city is “absolutely wonderful.”

"There’s a lot of satisfaction to that and I can humbly say we know it’s doing a lot of good," he said. "We know these residents looked forward to tree plantings in their street for years. They’ll enjoy watching these trees grow for years to come.”

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