Independence is ‘Tree City USA’ for 20th year

by Martin McConnell

Independence was recently recognized as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation. The foundation recognized 3,676 communities nationwide for the title of Tree City USA, with 245 of them being in the state of Ohio.

“We have been very diligent in our duties which has been great,” said Independence Councilman Jim Trakas. “We’ve been working with the Arbor Day Foundation for really, 30 years, because we’ve been working with them since the 1990s. And we’ve been consistent about being able to be named ‘Tree City USA’ since that time.”

The Arbor Day Foundation has a set of four criteria a community must meet to become a Tree City USA. The city must have a tree board or department, establish a tree care ordinance, have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita and celebrate Arbor Day.

“Much of [the criteria] has to do with promoting tree planting, having tree planting plans, and having programs in place for private citizens as well as the community,” Trakas said. “Independence has done that consistently.”

Each new housing development in Independence must meet a minimum threshold of trees to be planted. Each household in the city also receives two free trees for the lawn or treelawn.

Trakas is also spearheading the city’s effort to double its tree canopy by 2030.

“I think you’ll see a very realistic but aggressive plan,” Trakas said. “When Cleveland was the ‘Forest City’ and we had an area known for our fantastic trees, we really lost a lot of our tree canopy. … It’s not just something the city is going to do. It’s something that every resident has to be thinking about.”

The city planned to have an Arbor Day celebration in May, marking its first proper celebration of the holiday since the start of the pandemic. Trakas also noted that much of Independence’s present and future tree-planting philosophy is built into the architecture of the city.

“When you drive down Brecksville Road and the entire road is really a beautiful tree-lined street, that’s part of it,” Trakas said. “We also obviously have other public spaces that we utilize. Whether it be through our parks or other city-owned property, we have a pretty strong commitment to trees.” ∞