Waynedale Political Commentaries




Fort Wayne has a great many treasures we take for granted. Some, like our three rivers, we see almost every day. Others, such as our fabulous arts community, we remember when we take in a show, see a new exhibit, or read the marquee as we drive by the Embassy.

Then there are the treasures that are so much a part of the fabric of our lives, we rarely give them a thought, such as our trees. We walk under them every day, drive past them on the way home, take shelter beneath them when it starts to rain — but rarely do we think of how lucky we are for their presence.

Did you know the City of Fort Wayne has almost 60,000 trees lining our streets and filling our parks? We may take our trees for granted on a daily basis, but Fort Wayne has a long history of valuing this unique natural resource. Less than a month ago, we enjoyed one of our proudest and most entertaining annual events: the Johnny Appleseed Festival, which celebrates our rich history of appreciating and planting trees.

In the past couple of years, however, Fort Wayne’s trees have fallen victim to an alien pest. Historically, nearly one-quarter of Fort Wayne’s tree canopy has comprised various types of ash tree. Increasingly over the past three years, the emerald ash borer, a small Asian beetle, has targeted, depleted, and diminished our vibrant urban forest. Spotted in Allen County in 2006 and in the city of Fort Wayne a year later, the beetle has infested hundreds — perhaps thousands — of our nearly-14,000 ash trees.

Sadly, there is no antidote to the ash borer, and one by one, it could kill this staple of our urban forest. We’re working to remove sick trees to protect the healthy ones, but Parks Director Al Moll and the City’s forestry manager, Chad Tinkel, tell me that, if we don’t act quickly and strategically to control this destructive pest, in just a few years our entire ash population could be wiped out.

It’s hard to imagine that happening in Fort Wayne, which for the past 20 years has been named “Tree City USA” — a designation assigned by the National Arbor Day Foundation to communities that demonstrate their commitment to creating a rich, healthy urban forest. In order to qualify, we had to meet four standards: establish a Tree Department (part of the Department of Parks and Recreation); pass a tree care ordinance; maintain a Community Forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per resident; and hold an Arbor Day observation program and proclamation. In fact, Fort Wayne spends more public dollars on trees than most cities its size – and many that are much larger. Unfortunately, those dollars only begin to scratch the surface, and the City cannot do this alone.

To confront threats like the ash-borer and truly make a difference will take a community-wide effort, and all the ingenuity and energy Fort Wayne’s residents are known for.

On October 16, I was thrilled to stand with nearly 100 volunteers – mostly children – in Renaissance Pointe to kick off an effort to plant more than 50 new trees in that fabulous southeast neighborhood.

Less than three weeks from now, on November 6, Waynedale residents will have an opportunity to plant trees in their neighborhood by participating in the Great Tree Canopy Comeback. Foster Park is one of four Fort Wayne sites where volunteers can go to help plant new trees — more than 200 of them going into the ground that day, starting at 10 AM.

Finally, the city continues to apply for federal and state grants to pay for more trees to replace those that are dying. Last year, we received grants for 400 trees. This year, we’re hoping to win grants for just as many, but we need to show that Fort Wayne residents care about keeping our city green. I just submitted my support for a federal grant, and I am told there is the potential for another – perhaps even bigger – grant application in the coming weeks.

One of Fort Wayne’s great attributes is our tree-lined streets and lush, green parks. Trees are an important part of our civic identity, and we must do everything we can to preserve and enhance these treasures. To find out more about the planting on November 6 or to support our efforts to secure more grant dollars for trees, please visit the Parks Department online at www.fortwayneparks.org, or call them at 427-6000. Working together, we can keep our reputation as one of the best tree-cities in America.

Tom Henry - Fort Wayne Mayor

A lifelong Fort Wayne resident, Mayor Thomas C. Henry is committed to public and community service. He was elected to his first term as Fort Wayne's Mayor November 6, 2007. Mayor Henry authors the "Message from the Mayor" column. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer