City appoints green-thumbed residents to new tree commission committee

by Martin McConnell

Independence recently appointed two citizens and an arborist to its newly-formed tree commission committee. The group will act as an advisory board to Mayor Greg Kurtz regarding trees and shrubs.

The committee’s efforts will be concentrated on preserving the tree canopy for Independence. The city’s tree canopy helped it earn the “Tree City USA” title earlier this year, as one of over 3,000 towns across the United States.

Ken Stray is the park manager of Hinckley Reservation, a citizen with a passion for plants, and a member of this new committee. After finding out his local homeowners association was going to plant an invasive tree species on tree lawns in Independence, he wrote a letter to city council.

“I jokingly tell people that I was chosen because I complained, but that is actually part of the truth,” Stray said. “Councilman Jim Trakas reached out to me directly to inquire if I was interested in joining the tree commission, which had gone dormant but was being looked at for a revival.”

Stray noted that work in the parks and his passion for plant preservation helped him feel comfortable in standing up to make a change in the community.

“I took the time to draft a letter stating my position and was offered the opportunity to take action for change,” Stray said. “As a park manager, I see the direct result of invasive species moving into an area and the amount of work it takes to combat them.”

The committee has yet to hold its first meeting, but they should be starting work by the end of this year.

Stray will serve a two-year term and is joined by Dawn Marie Corrigan, who will serve a four-year term, and arborist Chad Clink, who will act as a consultant. In a July city council meeting, Law Director Greg O’Brien explained, “The mayor gets two appointments, council gets two appointments, a two-year and a four-year. We took care of the council representative … councilperson Trakas. … The city planner sits on the commission as well.”

“The commission has not had its first meeting, so I don’t want to speak for the whole group as far as the aim,” Stray said. “Personally, I have an interest in looking at the prevalence of invasive species and developing a plan to minimize their impact on the trees of the city.”

Stray’s background is mainly in plant preservation, and he prides himself on a proactive approach to conserving local trees. His goal for the committee is to root out invasive species from the community.

“The emerald ash borer was a fairly well-publicized invasive species that essentially wiped out the ash trees in the region, and we are now facing oak wilt, spotted lanternfly, Dutch elm disease, and many more that could have as major of an impact,” Stray said. “If we are not proactive, we could see a substantial change to our tree canopy in a short amount of time.” ∞