By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda was officially recognized as a “Tree City USA” on Monday, when a state Department of Environmental Conservation representative came to the banks of the Erie Canal on behalf of the Arbor Day Foundation, which officially announced the designation last week.
Brad Rowles, supervisor of the Department of Public Works, said bringing the status to the Lumber City — one held by 95 municipalities in the state and 3,400 across the nation — was one of his major goals when he was hired two years ago.
With 14,000 trees at residential homes and properties around the city, and an estimated 35,000 found in surrounding woods and parks, Rowles said he knew of the designation, while bringing it to North Tonawanda was nothing less than common sense.
“We’re obviously known as the Lumber City,” Rowles said. “It’s only natural that we have the designation because of the background of the city, the amount of parks and wooded areas we have. These things all go together.”
Officials received a flag and a certificate at the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens on Monday, and will add signage at entrances to the city in the coming weeks to boast the new status as a “Tree City USA,” which is given by the foundation based on four core standards.
While the city already met several of those — including the existence of a tree committee, a budget of at least $2 per capita to be spent on urban forests, and a community tree ordinance — Mayor Rob Ortt said it was a matter of organization.
As calls poured in from residents who had problems with trees, especially after the surprise October storm of 2006 that Rowles said decimated roughly 20 percent of the city’s stock of trees, they were often shuffled from department to department, according to Ortt, who said the problem has now been remedied, with calls directed to either the DPW or the mayor’s office.
“It was a very different experience for residents a few years ago to get a tree taken down or to file a complaint,” he said. “We tried to create a new system and streamline the process.”
That process now includes a four-man crew that Rowles said works full time to tend to the city’s trees, with approximately 200 taken down and about 60 planted each year, very often in residents front yards.
Many of the trees the city obtains have been free of charge through Re-Tree Western New York. Rowles said the city may have been able to obtain the “Tree City USA” designation several years ago, but not until he and the mayor began a push to organize the venture. After that, Rowles said, it was a matter of letting the city’s tree stock speak for itself.
“It’s a prestigious award,” he said. “And it’s another thing for residents to be proud of.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.