Tree care classes starting in Baltimore

Historic Cylburn Mansion is in the background as City Arborist Erik Dihle and the Baltimore Tree Trust's Amanda Cunningham visit Cylburn Arboretum on Feb. 21. The city and nonprofit groups are collaborating on new tree care classes that will start on March 7 at the arboretum. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / February 21, 2013)

Amanda Cunningham wants to make you a Baltimore TreeKeeper.

Cunningham, executive director of the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust, is working with the city's forestry board and Tree Baltimore, an umbrella organization for city agencies and private organizations, to achieve Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's stated goal of increasing the city's urban tree canopy from 27 to 40 percent by the year 2040.

Toward that end, Cunningham is signing up residents citywide for Baltimore TreeKeepers, a new program of free tree stewardship classes starting Thursday, March 7, at the Vollmer visitors center in Cylburn Arboretum.

Although similar classes are taught in many U.S. cities, the collaborative effort by the city and nonprofit tree groups is "brand spanking new" in Baltimore, Cunningham said.

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Previous efforts by groups including the Baltimore Tree Trust faded away in large part because of a lack of staffing, said Cunningham and Erik Dihle, city arborist and chief of urban forestry.

"TreeKeepers promotes healthy trees by educating residents and increasing their role in the care of the city's trees," states a flier by the Baltimore Tree Trust. "Through this training, citizens can become tree advocates and share the responsibility to plant and care for trees in their neighborhood and throughout the city."

The goal is "to get more trees in the ground, protect the ones we have and educate the public," Cunningham said. "We're trying to get trees in neighborhoods with low tree counts."

"TreeKeepers is important because we want buy-in" from the public," Dihle said. "We want the citizens of Baltimore to take ownership of the beautiful heritage we have."

Tree Baltimore was created by former Mayor Martin O'Malley to accomplish those goals, and the trust, which has 501(c)(3) status, acts as the city's nonprofit partner for fundraising, Cunningham said.

The groups and agencies have been planning curriculum since January. The first class being offered is "101: Trees & Baltimore," March 7, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the arboretum's Vollmer visitor center, 4915 Greenspring Ave. A second class, "102: The Science of Trees," will be held Saturday, March 16, from noon to 3 p.m., also at Cylburn Arboretum.

Guest speakers are expected to include Diehl and representatives of Blue Water Baltimore, Tree Baltimore and the Wyman Park-based Parks and People Foundation.

As of last week, 55 people had signed up for classes, including Jane Pilliod, 67, a longtime resident of Tuscany-Canterbury.

"I would like to do something civic and I like trees," said Pilliod, a master gardener, who last fall participated in a tree survey in leafy Roland Park, looking for factors such as the age and condition of trees.

Pilliod said she hopes to share information from the TreeKeepers classes with the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association, whose president, A,J, O'Brien, is her husband.

People are signing up for classes from around the city.

"I have an interest in trees and their care," said Ray Iturraldi, also 67, of Wyman Park, a board member of the group Friends of Stony Run. He said the fact that the classes are free is an added incentive.

David Andrew Smith, 30, said his neighborhood, Mount Vernon, "is working to dramatically increase the number of street trees over the next few years."

Rachel Miller, 29 of Patterson Park, said a blizzard about three years ago "really tore up a lot of our trees. Unfortunately the city won't trim them, so like most things in our neighborhood, we the residents do it. I'd hate to see our healthy trees die off because of lack of pruning."

Miller said her neighborhood association is applying for a grant for new trees, too.

"I'm hoping with this class, I can learn how to keep a tree healthy, and pass it along to other neighbors too," she said.