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Maple Bluff. Elm Grove. Cedarburg. Hickory Corners. Elmwood. Oakfield. Ashland. Wisconsin derives personality from trees. Community trees often define the look, the name and the character of streets, neighborhoods, cities, subdivisions and shopping areas.
When supplemented by good municipal services and schools, the urban forest forms the positive impression that residents and visitors alike have of a community.
"It is often trees and other mature vegetation that give residents and visitors the impression that an area is safe or inviting," says State Urban Forester Dick Rideout. "Trees add to the social and economic well-being of the community, and provide environmental services such as stormwater management and air cleansing." Many communities, large and small, urban and rural, have municipal tree programs. Their investment in trees means a safer and healthier future for their community. By planting and nurturing trees, local governments and citizens can leave a mark on the community that they can point to with pride – a legacy. This legacy is a vibrant, thriving community – a desirable place to visit, work, do business and live.
The City of Superior (pop. 27,368) is one of Wisconsin's best examples of a community with a strong urban forest legacy. Besides having an urban forestry program with about 11,000 public trees, the city houses the third largest municipal forest in the United States. This largest remaining boreal forest in Wisconsin and a wetland that is home to rare and endangered plant and animal species have been permanently protected as Wisconsin's 300th State Natural Area. Superior officials worked with local citizens to develop a protection strategy for this property, says Mary Morgan, Superior parks and recreation director and city forester.
"I could never imagine a Superior without its urban trees or municipal forest," Morgan says. "Trees are extremely beloved here."
An investment in trees also can build business as the City of Neenah has discovered. Today, you can enjoy a cup of coffee or shop along shaded sidewalks in downtown Neenah.
"A community's trees make an impression on its visitors and are an extension of the community's pride and spirit," says Karen Harkness, executive director of Future Neenah, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Neenah's economic and cultural vitality.
Neenah is one of several communities across Wisconsin revitalizing its business district with healthy and well-maintained trees. The community has come to know what other business owners across the country are realizing – trees are good for business.
A study by University of Washington social scientist Kathleen Wolf on the role of trees in revitalizing business districts across the country shows that trees attract business and tourists. People linger and shop longer along tree-lined streets. She also found that people believed that merchants in a heavily treed district would be more knowledgeable and helpful than those in an area without trees. They felt product quality was higher in areas surrounded by trees and were willing to pay more for those products.
According to Wolf, people claim that they are willing to spend nine percent more on products in small towns and 12 percent more in large cities for identical products in places that have trees versus those that don't.
American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization, suggests that business districts maintain 15 percent tree canopy cover. Most retail environments in the United States, however, have five percent cover or less.
Future Neenah received a DNR Urban Forestry Grant to replace trees that had been damaged by reflected heat from nearby buildings. The city planted 42 trees selected to tolerate harsh conditions. Flower beds also were planted.
"People were concerned when the original trees were cut down," Harkness recalls. "I got lots of phone calls. But now people love the results."
The trees and flowers have beautified the downtown, shaded the sidewalks, attracted people to sit outside in the summer, built a sense of community and softened the storefronts.
"I could not imagine the downtown anymore without the trees and flowers," Harkness says.
Healthy, attractive trees improve the "curb appeal" of real estate. Research by L.M. Anderson and H.K. Cordell of the USDA Forest Service on some 800 single-family houses sold over a two-year period in Athens, Georgia found that people are willing to pay three to seven percent more for property with well-maintained trees versus properties with few or no trees. A comprehensive study conducted by Dan Neely, University of Illinois, utilizing actual sales prices found each large front-yard tree was associated with one percent increase in sales price. A large specimen tree could result in a 10 percent increase in property value.
The value of this benefit, depending on the average home sales price, can contribute significantly to a community's property tax revenues.
The USDA Forest Service has found that the amount of taxes contributed to communities throughout the United States due to the added value of privately owned trees on residential property is conservatively estimated at over $1.5 billion per year.
Steve Ziegler, a licensed landscape architect who has been practicing in Wisconsin since 1983, says he has many clients who are interested in installing rain gardens and planting a diversity of native trees and shrubs.
"More and more people are getting the idea that trees are a good investment," Ziegler says. "Trees add value – they give us short-term enjoyment in their beauty and environmental benefits, and long-term satisfaction in what they add to a property's real estate value."