Town plants new trees at Phair, Lillie parks, with more planned

Visitors to two different parks in town will likely notice some fresh new additions courtesy of the Town of Fort Frances and a little help from some very knowledgeable friends.

The parks at Phair and Lillie Avenue have seen the addition of a number of young trees in recent weeks thanks to the efforts of town employees and knowledge from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). A total of 84 trees of differing species were planted across the two parks on May 12, with the trees making their journey from Jeffries Nursery in Portage la Prairie, Man.

The MNRF’s Diana McGhee explained that the tree planting project came from a meeting between MNRF district manager Greg chapman and Fort Frances mayor June Caul in 2019, though it has hit some bumps along the way.

“The project was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” McGhee said.

“Our original idea was to have a community project with students planting the trees. Trees were reordered for this year and although it was not possible to involve students as we had hoped, park staff were available to install the trees in 2021. MNRF staff could not be on site to supervise or assist with the project because under the Emergency Stay at Home orders, only critical services, such as dam maintenance or fighting fires is allowed.”

The new trees help to support the town’s “no net loss” policy when it comes to trees in the municipality. That policy states that “where it is required, for a tree to be removed to facilitate road reconstruction, the tree has been damaged, is dead or diseased, the tree poses a threat to residential or municipal property, and the tree falls on the Town’s property, the Town will replace said tree with a new tree in a suitable location so as to not impact municipal infrastructure.” These replaced trees aren’t necessarily replaced in the same area they were removed from, but overall the policy helps to ensure the town doesn’t lose a healthy tree population for residents to enjoy.

McGhee noted that because of the restrictions placed upon MNRF staff, the ministry provided town staff with tip sheets on how to safely plant the trees and give them the best possible chance to grow. Included in the tip sheet were instructions to keep the trees watered until they were planted, dug a shallow hole 18 to 20 inches widen but not deeper than the tree’s root ball, and to firmly pack the soil once the roots had been transferred and spread out in the hole. The rows of hybrid poplar have also been further protected with a plastic tubing that will keep the trees safe and promote their growth.

“This project not only demonstrates collaboration and innovation during difficult times, but the importance of planning,” McGhee said.

“A successful, good looking tree planting project requires careful site and tree selection, plus consideration of tree protection and long term maintenance. The tree tubes create a micro-environment that helps to support the growth of the hybrid poplar and protect them from deer browse for that first critical year or two. One of the worst things you can do to a tree is cut the top off because this destroys its natural growth form forever.”

McGhee added that a mulch was also added to the base of each of the trees, which will provide weed control and reduce competition with other growth. The mulch also helps to keep the soil moist, which will in turn reduce the amount of upkeep needed by staff when it comes to looking after the trees.

Another key function of the mulch and plastic protectors is keeping the trees safe from automatic weed trimmers, or weed-whackers, depending on your favourite nomenclature. Anyone who has operated one of the handheld devices knows how quickly an errant swipe can strip away essential layers of bark, which can lead to long-term damage.

“A weed-whacker should never come anywhere near the base of a tree,” McGhee said.

“The stem of a tree contains important structures that function to create outer protective layers and transport water and nutrients up and down within the tree. If the outer layers of a tree stem, either the ‘cork cambium’ which produces new bark on the outside, or worse yet, the inner conductive layer called the ‘phloem,’ are damaged, it’s like cutting the throat of the tree. It is very hard for a tree to survive if these layers are damaged.”

New Gold also contributed $500 towards the project.

A special part of the tree planting project also saw an apple tree planted within the grounds of the community garden in memory of Samantha Pearson. The apple tree, ordered by Elaine Fischer, was planted next to the bench that was previously donated by Tess’ Kitchen in Pearson’s memory.

McGhee noted that the cooperative process between the town and ministry went well, which could lead to more collaborations between the two in the future, including another planned phase of this same project.

“Despite a few minor glitches, this phase of the project was successfully completed due to the excellent work ethic and dedication of Town of Fort Frances staff and park employees,” McGhee said.

“We hope to include a third row of Saskatoons (Service berries) for students of Fort Frances High School to plant in Phase 2 of the project next spring.”