Catonsville Tree Canopy Project to plant 1,000th tree this year

Jim Himel, director of the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project, stands by cherry trees along a half-mile stretch of Edmondson Avenue in 2017.

Ten years ago, Jim Himel, Bill Rees and Scott Schools formed the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project with a dream of planting 1,000 trees in Catonsville by the year 2020.

On Nov. 2, 2019, the project will meet that goal when volunteers finish planting a group of 50 hickory trees at the Spring Grove Hospital complex. They’ve chosen hickory trees because the planting will be along Hickory Drive.


“It’s clearly very rewarding when you can give back and increase the tree canopy,” Rees said.

Each year, the group receives grants from organizations like BGE, Constellation Energy and the Patapsco Heritage Greenway to pay for the cost of the trees and related materials.


Himel, director of the group, said he has a few places where he buys trees — all commercial enterprises rather than a local nursery or something smaller and all through a broker. That way, he said, he’s able to guarantee a good price and “the best stock” by buying wholesale.

Cadres of volunteers sign up to plant trees on the first Saturday of April and the first Saturday of November, usually from 9 a.m. to noon.

Volunteers plant the trees and a contractor uses a machine to pre-dig holes for each planting, which is a true boon to the organization, Himel said. It prevents first-time volunteers from becoming frustrated with the intensive labor of digging holes, and it keeps costs low.

Himel estimated that paying for the volunteer labor, both of planters and the contractor, probably would cost the organization about $10,000 every planting, if added to the cost of the trees.

The organization has planted 900 trees of varying species — from American elms to willow oaks to flowering cherry trees — across Catonsville in medians, near buildings and other locations into which trees can squeeze. Typically, a batch of 50 trees costs between $4,000 and $5,000.

Carrie Oberholtzer, a Baltimore County natural resource specialist who works on the county’s urban tree canopy project, said expanding the tree canopy in an area comes with a myriad of benefits. Tree cans improve property values, provide a pleasing aesthetic, clean the air, fight erosion and absorb nitrogen from the soil that could otherwise wind up as a stormwater pollutant.

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“In urban areas, it’s always important to be planting trees,” Oberholtzer said. Urban and suburban trees face more stressors than their rural counterparts.

The county government does not have a formal relationship with the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project, like it does with some tree-planting organizations, including Blue Water Baltimore, but Oberholtzer said she thinks the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project is doing good work.


During the Kevin Kamenetz administration, Baltimore County announced a goal of achieving and maintaining a tree canopy that covers 50 percent of the county as a whole and within the watersheds of the three drinking water reservoirs in the county by 2025. The plan also aims for a 40 percent coverage rate for all census-designated places within the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line.

According to the latest data made available by the county, Arbutus has a tree canopy that covers 35.8 percent of its total acreage, and Catonsville has a canopy of 55.2 percent coverage.