CAN’T SEE THE PEOPLE FOR THE TREES

City forester, dedicated volunteers keep community, parks green
By: 

David Wilhelms Leader Correspondent


Photo by David Wilhelms Mike Kroenke, city forester, shows off one of the new plantings in Franklin Park in Shawano.

Behind the trees in the city of Shawano is a grove of people who help them thrive.

Mike Kroenke, city forester, said volunteers and city personnel have combined to aid in planning, selection, planting and maintenance of trees.

Kroenke recently completed an arboretum plan for Franklin Park at the request of Matt Hendricks, city recreation director. The forester explained an arboretum “shows a diversity of trees. We plan to have an exhibit with labels on the trees so people can walk around and appreciate what we have.”

He added he hoped homeowners will “come here and see what the trees may look like at home.” In the plan is a site plaque that provides a guide to the park and its inhabitants.

Kroenke highlighted, “Beauty. Diversity. Functionality. These are our key concepts. We have the trees in the ‘right’ place. We’re adding color. We have evergreens and serviceberry for the birds.”

Placement is key for a particular species, Kroenke said, pointing out that many of the evergreens and cedars are near the fountain where they can benefit from the additional water. The white pines in the park have been placed so they have plenty of space to grow. Seventy trees from 30 different native species have been planted in the past two years in the city’s recent focus on Franklin Park.

Placement is also key for the goals of the park, the forester said. In front or north of the new bandshell, taller shade trees, including the elms but also maples, have been planted in a ring to eventually provide shade for concert goers. Providing “some definition” on the south side of the bandshell are some arborvitae and crab apple trees, a donation from Toni Knope in honor of her husband, Doug Knope. Several mountain ash have been planted on the east side of the park, providing some color and a pleasant background for the Shawano Farmers Market.

“It’s sort of a work of art, a landscape architecture,” Kroenke said. “You don’t just buy trees and plop them in the ground. You have to walk the plot of land and make decisions.” Buying high-quality stock, planting them carefully, and providing plenty of water is necessary to keep the “art” growing, he added.

Longer-lived, slower-growing trees like bur oak, black walnut and shagbark hickory are part of the overall design and also provide nuts for birds and wildlife. One hickory, a notoriously difficult tree to transplant because of its long taproot, is a donation from Tom Anderson.

The choice of bur oak may surprise some as it is historically more suited to prairies such as are found in southern Wisconsin. Kroenke said the trees reflect the forward thinking of the tree program because the oaks now fare better in northern situations due to climate change.

New horizon elms are another surprising choice for Franklin Park. Kroenke explained that the tree is a hybrid and resistant to the disease that has devastated the species across the country. Disease resistance is a key selection criteria, Kroenke noted.

For that reason, he and the other groups and individuals have avoided red oaks — susceptible to oak wilt — and chose a disease-resistant variety of shagbark hickory. Perhaps an exception is the planting of white pines despite their weakness for the tip weevil. Kroenke said former Mayor Jeanne Cronce asked for white pines to be included. The forester also noted the city is losing many of its signature mature white pines and the new plantings are a compensation.

Franklin Park now has a mix of deciduous shade trees and “even some fruit trees so the kids can see what they look like,” Kroenke said. The plum tree is now in bloom.

Co-op Park, on Richmond Street, is another recent focus as the city and United Cooperative recently completed a land swap, providing the city with a larger parcel. Kroenke said he was in the park on a recent Sunday to do some work “and the park was just full of kids, grandmothers and mothers. It was really good to see.”

The park boasts a number of crabapple trees, also donations from the Knope family.

Also looking to the future of trees in the city, Kroenke said a $3,000 grant from American Transmission Co., sought after a suggestion from Bob Dumke, another tree committee member, provided seedlings for a giveaway to school children and interested homeowners.

Most of the evergreens went to children, and Kroenke hope the seedlings would be an inspiration for them. He credited Ed Whealon as the first mayor to volunteer to help package and distribute the trees. He noted the present mayor and past administrations have been very supportive of trees and parks. One sign of that support is the annual hiring of a Public Works employee to water the trees, planters, and hanging flower baskets in the city.

Shawano is a designated Bird City, and planting fruit and nut trees is one response. The city has also been a part of the Tree City USA initiative for 25 years and has won the “Growth Award” from the initiative for the past nine years for going above and beyond the basic requirements.

If there is a downside to promoting and protecting trees in the city, Kroenke said confronting invasive species like glossy buckthorn is a challenge. The tree is a foreign import and very difficult to eradicate, requiring repeated chemical treatments, especially in Kuckuck Park.

Invasives are also being controlled under highlands that run through the city. They are now planting switchgrass as habitat for ground-nesting birds. Birds also will benefit from the planting of high bush cranberry and serviceberry.

The city offers a brochure on the selection, planting, and care of trees assembled by the Tree Advisory Committee and the Department of Public Works (DPW). Kroenke noted his supervisor, DPW Director Scott Kroening, has been very supportive of the effort to praised the work of the committee, a volunteer group, who have been very active in providing insights on the aesthetics and number of trees planted over the years.

Committee members Ross Langhurst, Pete Daniel and Tom Sturm recently devoted a day to planting trees in Co-op Park. Kroenke also credited the leadership and insights of long-time tree committee chair Bill Erdmann.

Pointing to a mature red oak tree on the west edge of the park, Kroenke said, “That’s my favorite tree here. That’s what I want the parks to look like.”