By Derek Lirange & Ruth Seward

College students in Worcester are literally getting their hands dirty working on trees in the community. The Worcester Tree Initiative Program of Tower Hill Botanic Garden has developed a close working partnership with Clark University Professor John Rogan and the Clark’s Geography Department students. Throughout the years WTI has guided students from Clark to help with community tree health surveys and city tree site mapping. This fall, Professor Rogan has developed a graduate level course focused on Urban and Community Forestry community projects. His long standing partnership with the Worcester Tree Initiative program and Clark’s Geography Department led to the creation of meaningful projects in the field for this interactive class.

Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, Ruth Seward, kicked off their first class by presenting on the Worcester Tree Initiative program and shaping some of the work the class will be doing this semester. One project they will do on our behalf is to analyze data collected on street trees by Tree Stewards, interns, and volunteers. We have asked them to look at trends in species, size, condition, and location. With this analysis we can share information with the city about trends throughout different neighborhoods which will help to inform planting strategies.

Another project that the class is investing a lot of time in is the Hadwen Arboretum, a 20 plus acre forested parcel that has belonged to Clark University since the early 1900s. The land was planted with hundreds of different kinds of trees in the life of Obadiah Hadwen, a former president of the Worcester County Horticultural Society and an avid botanist who loved to explore the possibilities of what could be grown in Worcester. Since his passing the land has been lightly tended and the landscape has filled in as a more or less wooded parcel. The space still holds many old specimen trees and their offspring, but it is also the home of many invasive species. The class is making its mission to identify and map the trees in the arboretum, and to post interpretive signage around the trees to help visitors identify what they are seeing. They will also work to remove invasives and establish a clear trail system that will allow visitors to enjoy the space as a more park-like setting.

The class will also be trained on  practical forestry skills in two more sessions with Tower Hill’s Worcester Tree Initiative program. The class will come to plant two trees at Eagle Statue. They will also go out to prune street trees near their campus to learn about proper tree pruning and health surveys.

This class is a unique blend of field experiences and classroom projects. The students have the opportunity to learn by doing and to work with professionals in the fields of Urban Forestry. Their work as a class will have real world applications and impacts, even before the end of the semester. Most students live in the world of the theoretical, even class projects that are based on real opportunities and problems rarely ever see the plans and proposals get implemented. But this class, with input from Tower Hill, will be able to point to the real impacts of their work. It’s a partnership we’re proud to be part of and look forward to continuing.