Tree Trails helps RF learn about their block

Website identifies parkway trees

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

Almost everyone appreciates leaves changing color in the fall. Autumn might mean colder weather is coming, but the transition between summer and winter is arguably one of the most beautiful seasons.

This year, River Forest residents are encouraged to learn more about the trees in their neighborhood by participating in the Sustainability Commission's River Forest Tree Trails event. Participants can enter to win free curbside composting for three months; but everyone benefits by taking the opportunity to get out and learn something new about trees and the benefits they offer other than their beauty.

"River Forest Tree Trails grew out of our desire to provide a fun, socially distant way of getting to know and appreciate River Forest's diverse species and ages of trees," said Beth Cheng, a member of the Sustainability Commission. 

"Diverse" is the key word, since the village maintains 8,000 trees and over 90 species on parkways around town.

Tree Trails runs until the end of October, and residents can participate by doing the following:

- Downloading the activity sheet at vrf.us/trees.

- Submitting a photo or scan of the completed activity sheet to sustainability@vrf.us by October 31 for a chance to win three months of free curbside composting.

- Look up the names of any trees on the parkways (the area between the curb and the sidewalk) on the village's parkway tree map at vrf.us/treemap.

The activity sheet asks people to identify different trees by shape and size: skinniest, thickest, shortest, tallest. They're also asked which they think is the prettiest. Then, using the tree map listed or identifying characteristics, residents are asked what kind of tree it is.

This is a fun way for families to get involved in nature, but the Sustainability Commission has serious goals. Its strategic plan focuses developing strategies to enable everyone in the village "to protect the environment by reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions we are producing and that are the source of climate change." And trees are an important part of that.

"Trees offset greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon," said Cheng. "Trees also provide many other benefits (also known as ecosystem services) such as reducing flood risk by absorbing rainwater, reducing energy costs by providing shade, and providing wildlife habitats."

 More information about the strategic plan can be found on the village website at vrf.us/guides/guide/7.

Resident David Mefford participated in Tree Trails with his family, including his two children Henry (8) and Harper (5). The Meffords moved to River Forest in August, and David said it's been hard to get engaged in the community with COVID-19 affecting social activities.

"This was a cool way to get involved," Mefford said. He said he set out with a tape measure and his two kids, and for about 45 minutes they walked their block and looked at the trees.

"We learned a lot," Mefford said, adding that he enjoyed the tree map that identifies the types of trees throughout the village.

Eight-year-old Henry Mefford said, "I enjoyed learning more about the neighborhood. It was good exercise and also a lot of fun."

On the activity sheets submitted to the commission, residents commented about the benefits of the activity, including learning about trees, feeling connected to the community, and getting outside as a family. Several were surprised to see such a wide variety of trees. And many hadn't known about the tree map website that identifies trees in the area.

"We were blown away by the diversity of trees just on our block," one resident said.

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