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Catonsville Tree Canopy Project receives $10,000 grant from BGE

The Catonsville Tree Canopy Project's goal of planting 1,000 large trees in the area by 2020 recently received a boost from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.

For the third year in a row, the local organization has received a grant from the company, said Jim Himel, 62, chairman of the group, which began four years ago and is part of the Catonsville Rotary Foundation.

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The Catonsville group was one of 10 in Baltimore County to receive Green Grants when BGE began the program in 2013.

To date, the organization has received about $25,000 in total from BGE, Himel said.

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Himel said the group has planted about 400 trees so far and is on track to its goal. Past projects of the group have included planting 50 trees in the Melvin Park neighborhood, near Old Frederick Road and Melvin Avenue, 50 trees in the Catonsville Colonial Gardens neighborhood at Edmondson Avenue and North Rolling Road and trees along Melvin Avenue in front of Catonsville Presbyterian Church.

"I think Jim has done a phenomenal job working within the community to plant trees," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville.

Cal Oren, a charter member of the Catonsville Rotary Club since 2001, said the project provides, "big, beautiful trees down the road that create a tradition that is futuristic."

"We want future generations to enjoy the tree canopy that is a part of Catonsville's history," said Oren, who has three children.

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"I think what's huge is that what you see and read about is that there is more to just planting trees because they're good," said Himel, a licensed forester and former Baltimore City planner. "There is a lot of scientific research to back that up. They help deal with climate change, global warming and heat islands."

Himel said trees like the ones the group is planting help to combat urban heat island effects, a phenomenon that causes urban areas like Baltimore City to become much hotter than surrounding areas.

Heat islands increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, summertime peak energy demand and air-conditioning costs, as well as affect water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The leaves and branches of the trees reduce the solar radiation that reaches the area below the tree, which makes the surface of the ground cooler and reduces heat transmitted to surrounding buildings and to the atmosphere, EPA information says.

According to the EPA, trees have numerous economic benefits. A five-city study cited on the organization's website found that on a per-tree basis, financial benefits ranged from $1.50 to $3 per every dollar invested in planting trees.

Trees also reduce stormwater runoff, making retention ponds built by developers unnecessary, Himel said.

On a hot summer day, a large tree can absorb 200 to 300 gallons of water, he said.

They also have psychological benefits, said Bill Reese, a forester who works for BGE and is a member of the group.

Reese said "Long term, it's going to make Catonsville a more liveable place aesthetically."

With the decline of older trees, there is a need to plant new ones, he said.

He explained that emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle discovered in Michigan that likely originated in Asia, has been killing trees across the country and has made its way to Maryland.

"It's not in Catonsville yet, but it's not far away either," Reese said, adding that it has been in found in Howard County and Baltimore City.

The group's next project will be planting American Elm trees at Catonsville High School. Trees will be planted on the south and east side of the campus on Saturday, Nov. 8, Himel said.

Oren said the group has chosen to plant trees that live for hundreds of years, rather than ornamental, fast-growing trees like dogwood and maple trees that are prone to disease.

"Planting trees is a piece of the infrastructure of a community no different from sewer pipes, because trees last a decade to hundreds of years," Himel said.

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