Street tree on W. Market Street.

Last month a large pin oak tree was being trimmed back, waaaay back, on West Gay Street. The activity caught the attention of Amy and George Squire who quickly made a call that set in motion a series of events that landed  Borough of West Chester Consulting Arborist Mike Dunn outside the home. 

The tree in question was a street tree, or one of the trees between the sidewalk and the street, and George and Amy are volunteer members of West Chester’s relatively recently formed Tree Team whose mission it is to keep its eyes on the Borough’s trees.

West Chester has been losing its old “legacy” trees at an alarming rate and it’s beginning to impact the health of the community. So last fall Mike reached out to the West Chester Green Team for help identifying local trees in distress. This led the Green Team to propose a new sub-committee dedicated solely to the Borough’s trees.

These are the People in Your Neighborhood…

It’s a family affair: Matteo Torres helps his mom, Christiane, log the Borough’s trees.

The Tree Team exists to operate as an extension of and liaison to both the Borough Tree Commission and the Borough arborist.

“We want to be the eyes and the ears of the community to help keep track of any major issues before they spiral out of control,” says Courtney  Finneran, Tree Team leader.

“I think our group is a testament to how volunteers can truly ‘Be The Change’ and make a real difference in our community,”

Courtney  Finneran, Volunteer leader of the Tree Team
The southeastern quadrant of the Borough is a priority for the Tree Team.

Borough Tree Team Goals:  

  • Increase the number of healthy trees throughout the Borough. 
  • Increase habitat for wildlife, especially birds whose numbers have dropped in recent years. 
  • Improve tree cover in the southeast quadrant of the Borough which has the least.  
  • Create a shady corridor for residents to walk into the center of town. 
  • Plant more trees throughout the Borough. 

Less than a year (and one pandemic) into existence, there are about 50 volunteers monitoring trees all around the Borough. Each citizen has been tasked with a block or two and has been asked to occasionally walk his or her blocks and note any trees in distress or any empty spots where trees could be planted. The information is then gathered into an issue log and shared with Mike, who reviews the information and uses it to prioritize his activities. 

“I think our group is a testament to how volunteers can truly ‘Be The Change’ and make a real difference in our community,” says Courtney.  

Tree Team on Watch

“Trimmed” tree on West Gay Street

So back to the trees on Gay Street. Amy and George were on their regular Tree Team walk when they spotted the trimming. They also knew under the new West Chester Tree Ordinance pruning of street trees is not permitted without prior approval from the Borough Arborist.  

It used to be that maintaining (and removing) street trees associated with a property was the sole responsibility of the homeowner. Last summer the code was amended and the Borough assumed responsibility for maintaining street trees (removal is still the responsibility of the homeowner.) Residents who want to do their own pruning or remove the tree for their own purposes can, however, they would first need to obtain a permit from the Borough. 

“As it turns out, there was a misunderstanding,” said Margaret Hudgings, co-founder of Don’t Spray Me and the West Chester Green Team and the Squire’s first call after they noted the illegal trimming. The homeowner was unaware maintenance had shifted to the Borough. After discussing the situation with Mike, the homeowner stopped the work, and the remaining trees were saved. 

“This episode is an example of a win-win interaction.”

Margaret Hudgings, co-founder West Chester Green Team

It’s a lot to keep up with so it’s not surprising there may be a misunderstanding here and there – especially in a diverse community like West Chester – and that’s just what the Tree Team is there for, to help clear up misunderstandings and save the trees.  

“This episode is an example of a win-win interaction–with Borough employees and community volunteers working together for the benefit of our community,” said Margaret.  

Note: Most trees on your property are there at your sole discretion and responsibility. However, some, like street trees and the newly added heritage trees, require extra care and Borough arborist approval before any action can be taken. If you have a question about trees on your property contact the Public Works Department by email or at 610-696-5282.

Also, the update Tree ordinance can be found here.

Plus, while we wait for Gay Street to close, this park a few block from Downtown is a great place to enjoy a lunch, and some heritage trees.

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