- Matthew Thorsen
When I heard the city would be hosting a tree award ceremony, I imagined something out of J.R.R. Tolkien: Ent-like figures striding up a red carpet, trailing rooted clumps of earth. The reality was a tad different, but no less delightful. After catching up with neighbors over pizza and brownies, an all-ages crowd of about 35 settled down to hear Margaret Skinner, a UVM prof of plant and soil science and the president of Branch Out Burlington! The group of silvicultural souls has worked with the Queen City's Parks & Recreation Department since 1996 to help trees take root around town.
Skinner jollied her audience with a brief history of the volunteer organization, encouraging interested folks to sign up; then State Representative Dave Zuckerman announced the winners of BOB!'s annual Awesome Tree Awards contest. The trees, chosen from an annual pool of nominees, nabbed titles such as "Widest," "Tallest," "Most Unusual," and "Picture-Perfect." The people who nominated them also got prizes - gift certificates to area nurseries, horticulture books and gardening tools. The 2007 "Picture Perfect" winner was a gorgeous silver maple at the corner of Washington Street and Manhattan Drive - "bigger than all of my hair put together," said its nominator, shaking her own silvery mane. The tallest? A cottonwood tree on South Cove Road.
It's not that citizens can't, er, see the urban forest for the trees. Skinner explained that BOB!'s awards help draw attention to the organization and its innovative "Tree Keeper" program, in which community members sign up to monitor their neighborhood trees and foster saplings provided by the city's tree nursery.
City arborist Warren Spinner capped the evening with a slide show spanning a decade of award-winning trees: 1998's "Most Unusual" was a tulip tree on Spruce Street, sporting huge, butter-colored blooms that looked like their namesake. Other faves included an Oakledge Park red oak growing from the center of an old red-oak stump, and a lily-white birch ensconced in a black poplar. A tree on Champlain College's campus I'd always thought was a fig was actually a camperdown elm, grafted to a disease-resistant trunk. To find 2008's most awesome trees, I plan to tote one of BOB!'s city-wide tree-walk brochures around town, come spring.