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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Madison's Heritage Tree program honors our voiceless companions
Strong, vital, enduring
The massive bur oak in Warner Park.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

The city recently recognized some notable Madisonians with deep roots in the community.

They're trees.

The forestry section of the city of Madison's Parks Division has created a Heritage Tree program. "It helps us foster appreciation for our city park and street trees, to promote public awareness about these trees," says Marla Eddy, city forester. "They're part of our community."

The first award-winners are:

In the collection category, a grove of cottonwood trees along the shoreline of Lake Monona at Yahara Place Park, 1625 Yahara Place.

In the landmark category, a bur oak at 3110 N. Sherman Ave., in Warner Park. "People see that from a great distance," notes Eddy. It's also the 12th-largest oak in Dane County. "From that perspective, it was very easy to see that it is contributing to our community."

And, in the historic category, a hackberry tree at 904 Oakland St. It was nominated by Genie Ogden. "My great-grandpa planted the tree, more than 100 years ago, I guess," she says. "He built the house in 1897."

Other cities have Heritage Tree programs, such as Fort Worth, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle, Wash., which served as a model for Madison. "What I was surprised at is that there weren't many on the East Coast," says Eddy.

Nominated trees are visited by a review team that includes a landscape architect and an arborist. There's no awards ceremony, no plaques for winners, but "We do anticipate providing a map on a website, for people who want to go visit a tree," says Eddy.

To qualify, the tree must be on city-owned property, such as a park, or between the curb and a homeowner's sidewalk. (State-owned trees are not eligible, though many are notable. The oldest tree on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is "The President's Oak," on Observatory Hill near the La Follette School of Public Affairs. More than 300 years old, it was used by Camp Randall soldiers for Civil War target practice.)

John Muir learned here, and Aldo Leopold taught here, so it's perhaps no surprise that Madison takes its trees seriously. In fact, they've even been taken up by the city's Department of Planning and Development, in creation of a cultural plan.

"Throughout the planning process it was clear that Madisonians consider trees to be an essential part of the city's unique culture," says Karin Wolf, Planning and Development's arts program administrator. "Recognizing Madison's heritage trees in terms of their importance as landmarks, their history, their individual or collective beauty, demonstrates that aesthetic and environmental issues come together in the urban landscape."

Citizens are asked to nominate their own favorites for a Heritage Tree award. You can find more information at Madison Parks Forestry.

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