Baltimore City to offer tree care classes

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.

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. 

Cunningham hopes the classes will continue indefinitely.

"This is a multi-year, sustainable program," she said.

She said 200-land-300-level certification classes are also planned, starting this summer.

According to the trust's flier, "Trees create, cool, and clean the air we breathe, filter storm water, and shade our streets and homes. Studies show that neighborhoods with trees have less crime and are more desirable places to raise a family."

Cunningham said the ultimate goal is to train people in neighborhoods to take responsibility for basic tree planting and care. Part of the curriculum for the higher-level certification classes would include helpng at various tree-planting events around the city, she said.

She said she also hopes to take the classes "mobile" eventually..

Trees most common and prized in the city include Linden, red maple and red and white oak, Cunningham said.

There are an estimated 3 million trees in the city, 125,000 of them on city streets and in city parks, Dihle said.

The Baltimore TreeKeepers classes are being modeled after ones offered by Casey Trees, a Washington-based nonprofit group, Cunningham said. She encourages participants to "bring their curiosity and willingness to learn and be certified. Legally, you're not allowed to go out and prune street trees unless you're certified by the city."

Storms in recent years, such as Irene and Sandy, "have revealed how much trees need our help," Cunningham said.

Many simply fell over because the ground was so saturated, she said. But a healthier tree canopy would be more resistant to storms, because air would move more smoothly through the trees, she said.

"A good, balanced canopy is very important to the growth of a tree," she said.

To register for Baltimore TreeKeeper classes, go to or call Amanda Cunningam at 443-827-4201 or email

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