North Baltimore's tree canopy could be biggest victim of Hurricane Irene

There was no loss of life in north Baltimore from Hurricane Irene, but the loss of limbs, as in trees, is another story.

The power will eventually come back on to homes still without electricity, and the damage to property can be repaired. But Irene took a lasting toll on the city's tree canopy, much of which is in leafy north Baltimore.

"That's where a lot of the damage is coming from," said City Arborist Erik Dihle, who works in the forestry division of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Dihle said the tree damage is also decimating the city's tree budget, which already has been cut from $4.4 million to $2.8 million over the past two years. The city will apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to cover the costs the city has incurred so far in removing trees, Dihle said. His preliminary estimate was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — so far.

Dihle said Thursday that, citywide, people calling into the city's 311 line have reported 1,164 trees down, and that as of noon that day, there had been nearly 2,000 tree-related calls for service since the storm began whipping up Saturday.

Dihle believes the northern part of the city has the highest percentage of tree canopy, although he could not immediately provide statistics. Sixty to 80 percent of some north Baltimore neighborhoods are covered by tree canopy, based on previous aerial observations, he said.

Dihle said he had at least 20 crews of 3-4 people each working at the height of the storm to remove fallen trees blocking roads citywide. He said the first phase of his efforts as city arborist, clearing trees from roads, is finished, and that his office now is in the process of removing trees that are lying on properties, especially those against houses. Still pending is the removal of branches, wood piles and debris from sidewalks.

"That could take weeks," he said.

The fallout from Hurricane Irene was immediately evident Aug. 28 in the number of downed trees in Homeland, Roland Park and especially Guilford, where fallen trees blocked North Charles Street, St. Paul Street, Suffolk Road and Greenway. One tree fell against the house of Dr. Keiffer Mitchell Sr. and his wife, Nannette, the parents of state delegate and former city councilman Keiffer Mitchell Jr. The elder Mitchells live in the 4300 block of St. Paul Street.

Even trees that didn't fall are contributing to problems in Guilford, said Dihle, who lives on Newland Road in Guilford. He said Thursday there were still tree-related power outages on nearby Juniper Road, where power lines were tangled in trees. Dihle said he and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke are working to get Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. crews out to that area because his office can't deal with power lines.

Elsewhere in north Baltimore, social worker Pamela Kendall watched Sunday morning as a city crew removed a tree that crushed her 2005 Toyota Highlander, which was parked at Roland Avenue and University Parkway, next to the Roland ParkWater Tower.

The 207-acre Cylburn Arboretum near Mount Washington lost two very old and large trees, one of which fell on the arboretum's historic carriage house, where a one-room nature museum is located on the ground floor. A white oak heavily damaged the carriage house, which was built in the late 1800s and was rebuilt after a fire around 1912, according to Nell Strachan, a board member of the Cylburn Arboretum Association and chairwoman of the landscaping committee.

"It fell squarely on the back and damaged the roof," Strachan said.

Also damaged by the same tree was an equipment shed that the gardener uses, she said.

Strachan said she didn't know yet the extent of the damage, but she thinks the items on the museum's ground floor are still intact. She said Dihle came out to inspect the damage Aug. 30.

Also felled in the storm was a linden tree, also very old and tall, that stood on the main pedestrian walkway between the Vollmer Visitors' Center and the museum, Strachan said.

She said the rest of the arboretum appears to be all right.

"I don't have a report on the area around the (walking) trails," she said.

"The loss of those huge trees is very unfortunate," Strachan said. "But many very old, very large trees were not touched."

In north Roland Park, Dr. Nancy Strahan, medical director of Johns Hopkins Cardiology at Greenspring Station, lost a branch of a tree on Saturday, long before the storm reached full strength. The falling branch "totaled" the swing set in her backyard.

"I thought, 'This is not a harbinger of good things to come,'" said Strahan, whose house on the south side of St. George's Road later lost power during the storm and still had no power five days after Irene.

Largely spared by the storm was a much smaller arboretum in Mount Washington, about one acre with roughly 100 trees and 300 yards of pathways at Kelly Avenue and Lochlea Road, according to its caretaker and founder, Mike Sherlock.

He said an inspection of the property showed little damage.

"I can't say the same for the beech tree in our backyard," said Sherlock, who lives on Chilham Road in Mount Washington. "That thing fell over onto our garage and smashed it to bits."

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