Visitors to Lake Park may notice some new additions along the Oak Leaf Trail. Twenty-four trees were planted on October 14 by Johnson’s Nursery on behalf of Lake Park Friends.
The six-man crew began working at 8:30 a.m. and had all 24 trees in the ground by noon.
Steve Morse is the Vice President of Education for Lake Park Friends and is also a member of the Nature Committee. He initiated the planting after he observed a shift in the park’s vegetation.
“As I’ve been seeing what’s going on in the park, I see a lot of big trees get cut down,and I haven’t seen little trees get planted,” says Morse. “Obviously that can only go on so long before we’re not going to have a nice, treed park.”
According to Brian Russart, Natural Areas Coordinator for the Milwaukee County Park Department, trees are removed for various reasons including disease and storm damage.
Lake Park Friends is a nonprofit group that focuses on the preservation and enhancement of Lake Park. The Nature Committee wanted to proactively improve the area, so they approached the County Park Department with a request to plant trees to replace those that had been removed.
The project to install 24 new trees was approved.
A few years ago, Lake Park Friends planted oak trees that were provided for free.
Morse explains that they came very small and bare-root, which can dry out easily and make it harder for the tree to take and thrive. In the winter, deer nibbled at the low branches and stunted the growth of the leaders, compelling volunteers to cage the trees.
“It’s not that the deer like it. It’s that they need it,” says John Becker, a member of the Urban Ecology Center who designed the cages. “If they have nothing else they’ll eat the leaders.”
Morse says the trees have been a tremendous amount of work for Lake Park Friends’ volunteers. While some of the oaks have been successful and are now six to eight feet tall, others are still short and struggling.
The numerous troubles with the small trees made Committee members try a new approach this time around.
“With all the work that we had to keep doing on that, somebody said ‘Why don’t we just start with bigger trees?” says Morse.
And that is exactly what they set out to do.
Morse began raising funds for the trees. The Nature Committee and the Lake Park Friends Board both made contributions to the cause. There were also a number of private donors, including Morse.
The trees were bought from Johnson’s Nursery with a one-year guarantee. This will give Lake Park Friends time to tell if the trees are established.
Ten different native species were planted. Russart helped Morse and others from the Nature Committee select the trees based on their suitability to a given area, their ability to provide food and shelter for animals, and their aesthetic appeal.
The locations of the trees were determined by growing conditions, like soil type and sunlight, as well as how people are currently using the park. For example, trees with good shade quality were planted near picnic areas. At least one species was rejected because deer especially like to eat it.
Paper birches, pagoda dogwoods and Kentucky coffee trees were among the chosen ones.
Russart says some of the shrubs are already close to their maximum size and may be fully developed within ten years. Visitors can expect larger trees like birches to reach maturity in around twenty years, and hardwoods like oaks and maples in about fifty years.
The trees were planted in the fall because that is when they are dormant and need less water. Russart says that planting during this time reduces the pressure put on the tree and gives the tree a higher chance of survival.
The crew from Johnson’s Nursery had hoped to finish by dark, but were done far before then. By noon, the trees were in the ground and looked like they had been there all day. The efficiency of the six-man team showed how the future of a park can change in one fell swoop.
Morse says he hopes the careful selection of trees will mature into productive members of Lake Park.
“We’re not doing forest,” says Morse. “We’re doing park.”