'Tree City USA:' Branford Celebrates Arbor Day with Newly Planted Trees
In recognition of Arbor Day, the Branford Public Works installation team including (front, l-r) Jason Carolla, Will Durso and (in backhoe) Dan MacKinnel, was visited by (front, l-r) Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, Town Green Committee members Patricia Sanders, David Minicozzi, Susan McNamara and Don Gentile and (back, l-r) Public Works supervisor Gary Zielinski, Community Forest Commission member Shirley McCarthy and Patrick Sweeney, as two new trees were planted on the green. They include a disease-resistant Princeton elm which can be seen directly behind the group. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
In recognition of Branford's continuing status as an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA, two new trees were planted on the Branford green on Arbor Day, April 30, joining a number of other trees which are being installed as part of the Town's tree-planting program. The townwide program adds between 40 to 50 new trees to town each year.
Branford Public Works supervisor Gary Zielinski and his team got to work early on Arbor Day this year by first planting a tree at Branford High School. By about 10 a.m., work was well underway to install two more trees on the town green. The crew planted a disease-resistant Princeton elm and a Red maple on the green along its South Main Street side (across from Eades Street).
Princeton elms can grow to 60 feet and are imbued with resistance to Dutch elm disease, which, by the mid-20th century, killed off countless established elm trees in municipalities including Branford and New Haven, which is still nicknamed "The Elm City."
"Before Dutch elm disease, Main Street was lined with elm trees," said Zielinski. "Now, we're helping to bring elms back to Branford."
Other locations where the townwide tree planting program has or will install Princeton elms this year include several now planted along Old Pine Orchard Road beside Foote Riverside Park. Another is planned for the corner of Cedar Street and Main Street, and another behind Town Hall, said Zielinski.
In recognition of Arbor Day, the Public Works team on the town green was joined by Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, Town Green Committee chair David Minicozzi and members Don Gentile, Patricia Sanders and newly-appointed member Susan McNamara; and Community Forest Commission member Shirley McCarthy and co-chair Patrick Sweeney, who is also a member of the Conservation/Environmental Commission.
Sweeney, a botanist with Yale University's Peabody Museum, said the Town's effort to use native trees in its planting program is especially beneficial to the environment as reports are rising on plummeting insect populations.
"The native trees support the insects, and everything sort of cascades up," Sweeney said. "You support the insects, you support the birds, you support everything else above that. The non-natives don't really do that as much -- people have shown that the natives support way many more insects than the non-natives. So if you plant natives, that supports a lot of native insects and that has great cascading effects for everything. And it not's just trees – it could be shrubs and flowers, too. Just go native, all the way. There are lots of benefits.
Zielinski also coordinated the Arbor Day tree plantings on the Town Green with the Branford Green Committee, which is the Town's advisory committee overseeing the flora of the green.
"To me, this is the continuation of the beautification of South Main Street," said Minicozzi. "South Main Street is the beginning of Route 146, which is a designated state scenic highway. And so what we're trying to do on the Green Committee is keep this corridor along the green looking pretty."
One of the two trees planted on Arbor Day, the Red maple, was placed close to the point where a large, unhealthy maple tree had to be cut down. Working with an arborist, decisions to take down unhealthy trees on the town green is part of the work of the Green Committee in its stewardship role, said Cosgrove.
"They're constantly evaluating the locations and conditions of the trees, and they're planning for the future," said Cosgrove. "So at a number of areas around the green, they're looking at trees, and as they aged or become diseased, they're working on plans to possibly plant or replace those before we lose them."
Another recent planting overseen by the Green Committee along the South Main Street side of the green is a garden, installed in 2018 and donated by Van Wilgen's Garden Center, beside the playground behind First Congregational Church on the green. Public Works cleared overgrowth to make room for the garden. It highlights a notable false Cypress tree on the green that's inventoried as a Connecticut Champion Tree by the state's Notable Tree Project.
Cosgrove said the Town of Branford's tree planting program is something Branford has been committed to for a number of years, with Public Works stepping up that commitment over the past few years.
"They're probably planting an average of 50 trees a year; sometimes they may exceed that," said Cosgrove. "These are trees the Town purchases through the year, and they typically do two plantings. The largest is in the spring, and every year we do set aside a couple of trees to mark as an Arbor Day celebration."
Cosgrove said residents may be more attuned to tree loss in town in recent years due to varying factors, from Eversource CT's powerline protection program to diseased trees requiring removal and others felled by storm events.
"I think there's been a lot more awareness of the loss of trees and the importance of having trees in town, along the rights-of-way, throughout the neighborhoods," said Cosgrove. "That's why we're dedicated to this effort, and why there's also been a move to install trees that provide some type of environmental benefit, with natives as a large part of that."