By Bob Uphues
Riverside's village forester is seeking the help of residents in repopulating the village's public parkways with trees by offering to plant new ones for free in front of homes whose owners promise to water the young specimens for up to three years.
This will be the third consecutive year that Forest Michael Collins has focused efforts on reforesting the village's parkways, whose ash trees have been ravaged by the emerald ash borer since it first made its appearance in Riverside back in late 2011.
Last year, Collins selected the locations for planting new trees, working in certain "zones" of the village and, after identifying good spots, he contacted homeowners to enlist their help in making sure the new trees survived. Not everyone wanted to.
This year, he's casting the net a little wider to see if he can both address areas that need reforesting and find willing resident participants.
"It's a new approach," Collins said. "I'm just trying to improve the efficiency in getting the word out and reforesting."
Residents who would like a parkway tree and are committed to watering it are encouraged to contact the village's Public Works Department by calling Administrative Assistant Maribeth Reimer at 708-442-3590 and requesting an evaluation.
Collins will evaluate each request based on space available for planting, potential underground utility issues and resources available. Requesting a tree is no guarantee one will be planted.
Anyone interested in participating in the program is asked to contact the Public Works Department by Jan. 31.
In the past four years, crews have removed about 800 ash trees from Riverside's parkways – that doesn't include the dozens more cut down in places like Indian Gardens. It also doesn't include the 300 or so parkway ash trees that remain standing or the ones in the more out-of-the-way, forested edges of the village where ashes continue to succumb to infestation.
Beginning in 2015, the Riverside village board has earmarked $52,000 annually for reforestation efforts. In the past two years, the village has planted 418 trees on public parkways, in order to combat the loss of so many ash trees.
In addition to the money the village has set aside for reforestation, private citizens and community organizations such as the Olmsted Society, Garden Club and Juniors have made sizable donations toward the cause.
In 2012, alone, a Girl Scout fundraising effort paved the way for more than 100 trees to be planted on parkways.
"The community is very vested in the urban forest," Collins said.
As the ash borer infestation neared Riverside in 2008, Collins warned that the cost for removing and replanting trees could approach $1.1 million. The numbers show that he was pretty much on target.
Through 2016, the village has spent about $700,000 for removals and reforestation, and there's still some work to do.
"We're on the back end of the infestation,' said Collins, "but we're not quite there yet."
Resident help with the reforestation effort is essential, said Collins, due to the sheer number of trees involved.
In addition to the 418 trees planted on parkways by the village since 2015, the forestry department cared for another 160 trees in Riverside parks last year. It takes a seasonal worker about three-and-a-half days to water and maintain those trees, said Collins.
If the area is experiencing drought conditions, the watering cycle may need to be repeated often, Collins said.
As a result, said Collins, "Support for watering trees on parkways is vital."