ELLSWORTH — Happy trees, happy bees. Happy residents, too.
Come mid-May, pollinators dart among the pink blossoms of the crab apple trees surrounding the City Hall parking lot. Passers-by glance up and admire the show. But several decades after Ellsworth American reporter Jack Wiggins spearheaded their planting, the trees are showing their age. To that end, Ellsworth resident and former legislator Ruth Foster teamed up with the Ellsworth Garden Club to raise money for a revitalization project. It got underway Tuesday when a crew from Atlantic Landscape Construction began pruning the 24 trees. Seven that are dead or too far gone to be salvaged will be replaced.
“It’s beautification and curb appeal,” Foster explained. “It’s a beautiful city and this just adds more to it, and it shows that we care. We’ve already inherited [the trees]. We need to maintain what we have.”
Foster got the idea for the tree project after a conversation with Ellsworth Garden Club member Mary Blackstone, who had called looking for information about the Trees for Ellsworth initiative back in the early 1990s. Foster managed to unearth a fundraising brochure from the time. Residents raised money to plant 73 trees around town in 1992. In her research, Foster also was reminded of when Wiggins, son of former Ellsworth American Publisher James Russell Wiggins and a newspaperman in his own right, convinced his mother, Mabel, to pay for trees around City Hall. Jack Wiggins died in 1996. No one quite remembers what year the trees were planted.
Given their visibility in such a prominent location, Foster thought rehabilitating the City Hall trees would be an excellent starting point for a larger project. Any additional money collected could go toward the trees’ future care or to the cost of assessing and caring for trees planted during the Trees for Ellsworth effort.
Inspired, Foster got on the phone to solicit donations. No one turned her down. Her 92nd birthday was April 18. When anyone asked what she wanted, she had one answer: trees. She raised just over $10,000 for the project in 10 days. The money will cover two years of maintenance and the replacement cost of seven trees.
The project dovetails nicely with the recently released Ellsworth Green Plan created by Green Ellsworth and community partners. The plan envisions 2031 Ellsworth as “a greener, more sustainable city” and lists planting and caring for trees as an example of “investing in the future of our community.”
Tabatha White, an arborist and procurement manager for Atlantic Landscape Construction, is overseeing the City Hall project. She has also volunteered with the Green Plan and is working on a comprehensive plan to plant more trees in Ellsworth’s urban core. An Ellsworth native, she moved home in 2016 after working for the city of New York, where she personally selected 30,000 urban trees and managed city planting contracts. Trees, she said, can transform a landscape.
“They certainly make a town or city look a lot more inviting,” White said. She noted that studies show that trees planted in a business area lead people to linger and shop more while trees planted on the roadside can reduce traffic speeds. Myrick Street is a prime opportunity for planting, she said. Trees can increase property values, reduce energy costs, help the environment and provide a natural buffer between the road, pedestrians and homes. Plus, they look good.
Penny Weinstein, administrative assistant to City Manager Glenn Moshier, said city officials were “tickled pink” when Foster called to say she wanted to undertake the tree project. The city made a contribution to the effort but the cost of doing all the tree work just has not been in the budget. Fortunately, she said, “Ruth to the rescue!”