Fostering the urban forest
The area around the Monroe County Justice Center isn’t completely devoid of trees, but it is lacking in arboreal appeal.
The courthouse square was not spared from the emerald ash borer, which killed trees throughout Sparta and that leafy deficiency is currently being addressed through a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The agency provided a $10,000 matching grant to plant 35 trees on the Justice Center and courthouse annex lawns.
According to Monroe County Land Conservation Director Bob Micheel, whose department is overseeing the grant, the project is to replace trees that have a historic presence on the public square and to improve its aesthetics. They also provided shade in what is often an urban sweatbox in the summer and they are great consumers of carbon, he adds.
The county is relying on diversity to ensure there is no repeat of the mass urban deforestation caused by Dutch elm disease four decades ago or the more recent emerald ash borer.
Fifteen different species are being planted by Samantha Oftedahl, owner of Sam’s Spades Landscaping & Gardening in Cashton, who won the contract for the project. Some of the trees have already been planted while the rest will be planted in the coming days.
Among the different types being planted are hackberry, river birch, sugar maple, ginkgo, hybrid elm, Kentucky coffee, mountain ash, flowering pears, serviceberry, honey locust, American basswood, catalpa, red and white pine and burr oak.
One of the centerpieces will be a Fraser fir, which will eventually serve as the county’s annual Christmas tree.
Micheel said part of the plan is to use the trees as an educational tool for youth groups.
“It’s like an arboretum with all the different species around the courthouse,” he said, adding it’s near Beaver Creek where the county has done streambank restoration, which would be another point of interest for student groups.
“When we host sixth graders or whatever class, we’ll have ample opportunity to educate them on forestry along with stream restoration all in one little area.”
As the trees grow, the county plans to install plaques to identify the species and include other information on them.
Micheel says the project is worth the money because it will provide benefits for generations to come.
“When someone from out of the area comes down to the courthouse five years from now, they’re going to be impressed,” said Micheel. “The diversity and the aesthetics will add so much character to the downtown area.”