Jay Wilkerson, horticulturalist for the town of Farmville, manages the trees, shrubs, flower beds and planters all over town. It’s a big undertaking, especially in Farmville, which has qualified as a Tree City USA, for the past 17 years. Tree Cities help increase public awareness about urban trees as green infrastructure and must meet standards established by the Arbor Day Foundation. These include maintaining a tree board that is legally responsible for all trees on city- or town-owned property, passing a public tree-care ordinance, observing a yearly Arbor Day separate from the nationally observed one, and budgeting for a minimum $2.00 per capita expenditure on urban forestry.
Wilkerson saw an opportunity to stretch Farmville’s tree budget in 2020, when he noticed erosion on the banks of Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Appomattox River that runs through town, and applied to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Appomattox River Fund. Set up in 2019, the limited fund worked to mitigate the loss of riparian trees on a VOF easement in Amelia County. Grant applicants had to demonstrate that their project would enhance water quality in the Appomattox River watershed.
“That area along Buffalo Creek was already prone to flooding, but at the time they were building a pedestrian bridge and some new hard-surface trails there, which added to the problem,” he explains. To prevent erosion and improve water quality, Wilkerson used the grant to buy and plant a variety of river birch, a Virginia native, between the new trail and the creek. River birches do well in flood plains, he says. “Because the area floods, we needed to make sure we chose trees that would survive in those conditions.”
Erosion control is just one of the benefits of trees in the urban landscape, he adds. “Green infrastructure in the form of trees and shrubs addresses a wide range of issues, including heat islands, sound pollution and water run-off. You also get a lot of habitat for wildlife.”
The trees are doing well, he adds. “They started out small, in the three- to four-foot range. Now they’re about 12-15 feet tall.” Eventually the trees will reach 30-40 feet.
Trees are an investment, he adds, and it takes time for that investment to mature. “The initial contribution from Virginia Outdoors Foundation was the start of what will be a huge asset. Farmville will continue to nurture that investment.”
For more information on the Tree City USA designation and other urban forestry recognition programs in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry website.