TreePhilly gives away 14,500 free trees & has plenty more

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Nueva Esperanza is one of many city groups giving free TreePhilly yard trees to residents in the Parks and Recreation Department's campaign to boost every neighborhood's tree canopy.

SHARON HISKEL, who has lived on her block of Marshall Street near Sedgely Avenue in North Philly since 1980, received a pear tree, a nectarine tree, and a red oak from her community organization, Nueva Esperanza, last year.

She loves them. "The red oak is for shade," she said. "The other two trees will hopefully produce so I'll have fresh fruit."

Gabriella Gabriel Páez, education and community development manager at Nueva Esperanza, said that by participating in the Parks and Recreation Department's TreePhilly program since 2014, her organization has given away hundreds of trees to residents like Hiskel and witnessed the green rebirth of barren North Philly blocks.

"Only 3.9 percent of our land in Hunting Park has tree-canopy coverage, which is super-low," Paez said, far below TreePhilly's goal of a 30 percent canopy in every neighborhood.

So Nueva Esperanza keeps applying for 50 to 100 free trees to give to residents.

"Our neighbors love their trees," Paez said. "Trees raise neighborhood pride and spirit. It's almost like a chain reaction. If people feel like, 'Oh, I have these beautiful trees growing right in front of my eyes,' they start putting out flower planters. They feel good about the place they live in."

Alongside her trees, Hiskel grows flowers and vegetables in her garden, which won second place in a neighborhood contest because of her recycling skills.

"I made a pathway from bricks that were left behind and piled up extra bricks to make a rock garden," she said. "I used old car tires as flower pots. I took someone's blight and made beauty out of it."

TreePhilly has given away 14,500 yard trees to residents since the program began in 2012, but many neighborhoods still have a long way to go.

"A lot of people, my family included, are tree skeptics," said the city's new parks and recreation commissioner, Kathryn Ott Lovell. "They think that trees cause more problems than the value they add.

"When I talk to tree skeptics about tree myths, I use my own mom and my family in Mayfair as an example," Lovell said. "I tell people, 'If we can convince Mrs. Ott or my Uncle Tommy or Aunt Cecilia that they need a tree, we can convince you.' "

Tree skeptics, Lovell said, "think, 'It's going to break up my utility line and my sidewalk. It will grow too tall and I won't know what to do with it. It's going to drop leaves all over my yard.'"

That was true 50 years ago, Lovell said, when many of the wrong trees were planted on city streets, but "now, we have arborists who identify the right tree to be put in your yard, trees that don't grow too high or too deep."

In her former, equally pro-tree, job as executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Lovell did persuade Mrs. Ott and Uncle Tommy and Aunt Cecilia from Mayfair to plant free trees. "They love their trees," she said.

Neighborhood business and community groups, schools and faith-based organizations must apply by 5 p.m. Monday for 50 to 100 trees and a $500 grant.

Individual residents can apply for free trees in March.

Groups and individuals who want trees should email treephilly@phila.gov or call 215-683-0233 or 215-683-0217.

geringd@phillynews.com

215-854-5961 @DanGeringer

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