One of my earliest childhood memories of Nelsonville, aside from our beautiful star brick sidewalks and streets paved with Nelsonville Block, is of the majestic trees that once lined these same sidewalks and streets. I recall not only their shade but also the tunnel-like effect of the branches, leaves in the summer and snow in the winter. A warning from the parents telling us to watch out for the trees always preceded sled rides that ended on the “tree streets” of Walnut or Poplar. If aboard Bob Hollenbaugh’s bobsled we sometimes went as far as Chestnut. I always wondered if it was our safety or that of the trees.

Most of the trees I remember are either gone or so mutilated they are only shadows of what they once were. One of the most devastating sites is Fort Street where tree trimmers who were brought in to “top” the trees did just that; they took the mid-section right out so the foliage is u-shaped. Surely there are ways to trim or top trees without leaving them disfigured? Maybe not.

Look at the wonderful photos from the past shared on Facebook, many gifts from Clif Kittle (we thank you, Clif!). We recognize that a lot of older buildings are no longer around but it is the magnificent trees and their absence that I find most disturbing. It is not only because of aesthetics but what the fine old trees added to our quality of life.

Some property owners have landscaped with gorgeous ornamental trees and these are certainly a significant enhancement to local residences. The trees I am talking about are the amazing trees that could fit well within a plan beneficial to our entire community, one that would enable us to re-establish trees that could help us develop into a more healthful community. Shade is a plus, no doubt about it, but trees are more than shade and leaves to be raked in the fall. Trees are essential to our eco-system. Advantages are many and some of the more obvious are that they reduce pollution, give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilize soil and provide homes to wildlife and yes, give us shade.

No doubt some of the older trees have died a natural death and some have been taken down as a cautionary measure due to disease. Others, like those familiar on Fayette Street, were the casualty of city projects and never replaced.

There’s been discussion by City Council about establishing a Tree Commission. I sure do hope so. This has been discussed for many years but like a lot of really good ideas, it seems to have continually fallen through the cracks. A long-range plan developed by a Tree Commission could provide guidance as residential and business owners consider real estate enhancements that would be of major value to our community.

I’ve heard chitchat in passing of the possibility that replacing trees along the Public Square might be under consideration. Whether it is as these trees die or it’s a more deliberate plan to remove what’s there and replant it is a great idea. Trees of a shape and size appropriate to the architecture in this central part of town as well as a species that doesn’t drop its fruit would be most welcome. The ambience of tree-lined streets seems to be a fitting backdrop that our historic Public Square deserves.

Nelsonville is surrounded by Wayne National Forest, and this is our state’s only national forest. Resources are abundant and urban foresters with The Wayne are available and could help guide the process with the wealth of information they have to share. Shouldn’t trees be plentiful in all communities? Coming together with a plan to increase trees within the city limits of Nelsonville is only one way of improving our quality of life. This project could just as well be part of a larger overall plan to enhance community pride.

I wonder if Nelsonville’s next official designation might be that of a Tree City? I’m sure we could if we put our minds to it.

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Judy Sinnott is a former community volunteer who might (after a long hiatus) be on the verge of getting involved again.

jhiggins@athensmessenger.com; Twitter @joehmessenger

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