Belfast Values their Green Streets

September 13, 2023

Belfast has a long-standing reputation for beautiful green spaces dating all the way back to the early 1900s with the creation of the Belfast Village Improvement Society - a group of dedicated women who were the moving spirit in making the City's streets and public places more attractive and inspiring many civic improvements including planting trees in the Belfast City Park. The City's downtown and neighboring streets have evolved and developed since that time; yet the City's tradition of tree advocacy has continued through the years.

In the 1980's a civic minded collection of volunteers created a group called "GreenStreets!" whose focus has been to plant trees in the parks and streets of Belfast. Their long term-goal to protect City street trees prompted the Belfast City Council to adopt a City Tree Ordinance in 2003. The Ordinance states that no tree can be planted, pruned or removed without approval from the Tree Warden and City Council. GreenStreets! continues to assist the City today by volunteering their services to assist with mulching and watering trees for each new urban forest project. More recently, additional efforts have been implemented to protect each one of their cherished street trees.

In 2014 the City of Belfast formed a working group to tackle new tree planting projects which includes the City Tree Warden, two City Councilors (who also serve as volunteers for the Belfast Garden Club and GreenStreets!), the City Manager, Assistant to the City Manager - along with guidance from the City Director of Code & Planning - Parks and Recreation Director and a local arborist. This group works together to oversee and manage any inquiries, requests and/or tree planting and maintenance projects. Through the development of this group, the City has added canopies over the last decade to the Municipal Airport, established an arboretum in the City Park, and along the bus access for the Belfast Area High School following an extreme cutting. With the award of a 2014, 2015 and 2019 Project Canopy Planting Grant, the City has successfully planted 68 new downtown trees within the City's Bypass, which helped replace trees in areas that suffered loss during several hard winters and removals by CMP, a project that could not have been accomplished without the financial support from Project Canopy.

The City of Belfast was awarded a 2020 Project Canopy Planning and Maintenance Grant which afforded the City the ability to work with an arborist to establish a long overdue Street Tree Inventory that included an up-to-date assessment of the overall health of each street tree as well as a ranking to aid the City when trees are being considered for possible removal. This will allow the City moving forward to be proactive in its approach to tree maintenance and future tree plantings, ensuring that the decisions made for the future of the canopy are calculated and well educated. Over the years, decisions regarding the removal of prominent street trees have increased as many trees are aging and beginning to show signs of deteriorating health, but this updated tree inventory will provide the City with a clearer vision for a path moving forward and to uphold their mission to plant appropriate trees strategically, protect, preserve and advocate for the trees in the City.

With the 2023 grant, the City will to continue to maintain and preserve a canopy that will improve the quality of life for residents and visitors. This new project will plant trees along the City of Belfast Rail Trail and increase downtown street canopy with the addition of 15 new street trees. By implementing this new canopy, the City hopes to add protection to pedestrians who are utilizing the Trail, as well as to help insulate the trail from vehicles, noise, salt and plowing, making the trail safer and more user friendly. As part of this project the City plans to also purchase 60 shrubs to provide supplementary shade, improve soil stability, enhance air quality and create habitats for all types of wildlife enhancing the natural beauty of this recreational opportunity and providing the public with a trail that is easily accessible from the downtown yet feels like you're in the middle of the woods.

Additionally, the City has also identified 7 locations in the downtown area where trees need to be replaced or the addition of a canopy would be beneficial. These new trees will make a direct and positive impact on the community and visitors alike, adding diverse tree canopies within the City's recreational area and streets and public spaces. The Project is an integral component in a decades-long program of community forestry that has encouraged Belfast to plant and protect as many trees alongside streets, in parks, at schools, throughout the downtown area, and along major roads including but not limited to Routes 1, 3, 137, 52 and 141. These efforts have required strong cooperation between local volunteers and the City of Belfast as well as encouraged participation from local schools, scouts, and churches to complete these projects. By adding these new trees, they expect to increase community engagement and economic development. Helping to continue to build bridges between the City, local organizations and groups, businesses, schools and individual citizens, solidifying the City's goal of creating and maintaining a long-term community forestry program in all areas of their thriving City.

(excerpt from 2023 Project Canopy Community Forestry Grant Application)