by Francesca Chapman
Not everyone appreciates the roar of the chainsaws outside their window first thing in the morning, but it was music to the ears of Pastorius Park neighbor Kava Franklin.
“I’ve lived here for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Franklin said happily as the sawdust flew. All around, teams of four local commercial arborists were working over, in and under some of the park’s oldest trees.
“Over the past three years, the rejuvenation of this park has been incredible,” said Franklin. Pastorius Park “is a gem for Philadelphia, and this will help preserve it for generations to come.”
On April 28 — Arbor Day — work teams devoted their efforts to trimming about 10 of the oldest or “mature” trees along Millman Street and the park’s northwestern boundaries. Many trees there are 80 to 100 years old, and some tulip, oak, pine and sweetgum trees were in dire need of pruning after years of delayed maintenance, said Paul Meyer, retired Morris Arboretum executive director and event organizer.
Tree care in Pastorius Park is officially the responsibility of Fairmount Park and the city’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation, and their arborists removed some dead trees there earlier this year. But because “Fairmount Park is so resource scarce,” Meyer said, he recruited volunteers from Schectman Tree Care, McFarland Tree Services, John B. Ward & Co., and Hedgerows Tree Service to do the most urgent pruning.
The same four tree crews did free labor at the park last year in what organizers hope will become an Arbor Day tradition. The work done could be worth as much as $10,000, Meyer estimated.
“Taking care of large, mature trees is very technical and requires trained professionals working to very high standards of safety,” he said.
Erik Werner, head of the Hedgerows crew, said the arborists readily agreed to volunteer. “I wouldn’t fail to be here because of the long history I have with these trees, going back decades,” he said. As Werner spoke, he kept an eye on a helmeted colleague perched high in a sweetgum tree, perched on a branch while he sawed off another.
Meyer notes, “These types of trees in a public setting really need regular maintenance to remove deadwood and trim long branches.” With many of them shading the seating area for summer concerts and events like Parks on Tap this past week, falling trees can Branches “literally be deadly”.
Removing dead branches and cutting back long branches also reduces stress on brittle older trees and lets in sunlight for smaller trees, plants and people, Meyer said. An added bonus, many of the branches felled last week were immediately shredded on site, leaving the wood chips behind for volunteers to spread as ground cover and define plant beds in the park.
Tracy Gardner, President of Friends of Pastorius Park, said the “generosity of the arborists has enabled our Friends group to get a handle on ongoing projects at the park.” “It’s really gratifying to see the whole community getting involved.”
The work is part of an ongoing restoration project at the park outlined by Meyer and realized largely through volunteer work and donations. The project envisages planting new trees throughout the park and tending old trees in their declining years.
“We’re fortunate to live in a community with a lot of mature trees,” Meyer said of Chestnut Hill. “But it’s important not to be complacent — we also need to think about planting trees that will be there for us 60 to 75 years from now.”
Gardner said trees recently planted or planned for the park are mostly flowering species that provide the greatest benefit to wildlife and provide colorful foliage year-round.
“The park has momentum now,” she said. “The Yoshino cherries bloomed four or five weeks ago. As they faded, the magnolias emerged. Part of the fun of being here is being able to be here all four seasons and seeing things happen.”
James McNabb, a Chestnut Hill sculptor who also works with the Friends of Pastorius Park, agreed that healthy and well-cared for trees are key to the park’s beauty and purpose.
“Especially as a woodworker, my fascination with trees has grown over the years,” he says. “I have come to love the trees in this area and this park in particular. I don’t have much of a backyard, so I’m happy to consider Pastorius Park my backyard.”