Is Oak Park over planted?

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After wrapping up a detailed study of Austin Gardens last month, landscape architect Carol Yetken sent a message to the park board: Maybe it's time to stop planting so many trees.

Oak Park is certainly a village that loves its urban forestry, and, as Park District Buildings and Grounds Director Mike Grandy says, asking if there are too many trees is like asking, "Is your house too clean?" But, he added that depending on who you talk to, some of the village's parks may be "over planted."

The situation is in part due to the success of the district's Memorial Tree Program, which offers residents the opportunity to purchase a tree to be planted in a local park. A memorial plaque is placed along with the tree.

The program was started more than 30 years ago by a former park board commissioner, in part to help replace many of the trees the village lost due to Dutch Elm disease, said Laura Corry, who now runs the program.

Some parks, however, are a bit more popular than others.

"People like parks with high visibility, not Maple Park along Harlem where we may need more trees," said Park District Director Gary Balling, who agreed that over planting is an issue the district occasionally runs into, especially at Scoville Park and Austin Gardens.

Grandy said Scoville Park is "pretty much played out," in terms of planting additional new trees. He said the district has been removing some trees due to age. And right now, the Memorial Tree program has been successfully targeted toward replacing trees that have died.

In addition to Scoville Park, Corry said some of the more popular sites are the larger parks, such as Lindberg and Taylor. She said the program always tries to place a tree where the sponsor has requested it, but that they sometimes steer people toward other parks.

The issue isn't necessarily so much how many trees, Yetken clarified, but that there are few too many of the large, shady variety, especially Austin Gardens.

"We pretty much have enough of those," Yetken said. "We've encouraged the park district to expand the program to add more diversity to the palate."

Specifically adding more "ornamental" trees to parks would also be of benefit, Yetken said, though Grandy added that some of those species?#34;-including flowering crab trees, which are often requested?#34;-tend not to live as long.

Corry said the program already offers a pretty wide variety of trees, and adds that the district also supports "adopting" a tree, rather than planting a new one.

Replacing park benches as part of the memorial program is also offered. Stepping up that effort is also something Yetken encouraged the parks to work on.

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