Trees cut down at Treadwell Park in mid-April were quickly replaced thanks to a donation. The story started with a letter in December, and ended with donors and volunteers who are “forever changed,” after helping to plant trees over the weekend of April 26-27, said resident Laura King. Twenty-six Zelkova trees now stand where 19 locusts had previously been standing along the upper wall overlooking Treadwell’s fields.
Planting trees is “such a beautiful gesture,” Ms King said. “What’s more beautiful than to plant them and watch them grow? They will provide shelter and comfort for years to come.”
On Friday, April 26, with her shovel in hand, Ms King worked onsite as trees, many of which were donated and delivered through Victoria’s Nursery in Paramus, N.J., found permanent homes overlooking the park fields. With her and volunteering their time were Doug Nolan of Monroe and his nephew Greg Fico, of Greg’s Landscaping in Shelton. The trees were initially removed in a daylong project by Riccio Landscape & Tree Removal of Trumbull. Ms King had asked company owner Don Riccio for help, which she received without hesitation, she said.
With root balls bound in burlap that must have weighed at least 200 pounds apiece, Ms King watched as Newtown Parks & Recreation member Kyle Leonardi maneuvered trees into holes with a bobcat. Mr Nolan and Mr Fico stood the trees straight. Soon Will Jacobs, also with Newtown Parks & Recreation, joined the small group preparing the site on Friday. The following day, donors and roughly 40 out-of-towners from New Jersey were scheduled to arrive, so Ms King’s small groups worked in the mild spring afternoon to get the trees into holes, and the site prepped for the following morning.
By 9 am Saturday morning, April 27, donors and volunteers from New Jersey arrived at Treadwell. Wishing to use just their first names were Jennifer, Staci, Carole, Ana, and 36 friends from New Jersey. Many other friends from their Bergen County home and the New York City community contributed to a fund dedicated to the purchase, planting, and maintenance of the trees that Jeff Sandberg, owner of Victoria’s Nursery in Paramus, N.J., had donated and delivered so that funds raised could be used for future years’ care and maintenance.
As the tree project took shape, Ms King spent time considering the kindness and meaning behind the gift to Newtown.
“Never had I imagined how we could become one community with the world — that makes us one family, one community borne of compassion and goodness in all of us,” she said this week. She chose to focus on the “love and support from strangers.”
Planting day on April 27 “was awesome,” Ms King said. In a statement titled Branches of Healing, which is what the donors called their tree project, Ms King read her words of thanks to the crew from New Jersey, “I spoke about their gesture…it is the very gesture of one family, one community. I wanted to reflect how and why they were here and how this has all focused on people reaching out to one another.”
She said, “These people left Newtown changed forever; they told me they would never forget this day and they will treasure it and remember it forever.”
Sandy Volunteer Hook Fire & Rescue Company members arrived, filling water bags surrounding the trees, “a perfect ending,” Ms King said.
Firefighter George Lockwood refilled the bags Tuesday. Members of Parks & Recreation had asked the company to assist, he said, which they did. Every few days the department will refill the water bags.
The new trees, which will have a 35- to 40-foot spread at maturity, are planted about 40 feet apart.
Thinking back to her visit to the municipal center months ago, Ms King said, “If I had not picked up that letter, then not picked up the phone… It’s all for a reason. Somebody somewhere, our angels and guardians are watching. There were thousands of pieces of mail, and I picked up this one…”
Reading A Letter
Ms King, who had read “one of thousands” of pieces of mail flooding into town after 12/14, remembers an emotional trip to Newtown Municipal Center. She had picked up five letters, the first one from Dunblane, Scotland (where a school massacre occurred in 1996).
“I could not believe it,” she said. The “very next letter I picked up was from two women … I read their letter wanting to give us 26 trees of our choice to be planted...so I am standing there crying,” she said.
Why was it so meaningful for her? “You have to understand that late in life I discovered a passion for horticulture and went back to school to become master gardener. I gift trees to people for a happy occasion, for remembrance.” After reading the letter, she recalls thinking, “That is so beautiful.” The donation also offered money to care for tree maintenance in the future.
Ms King thought about that letter a lot in following days.
“I wanted to write a thank you to them for their love and support.” A few weeks, with the tree donation letter still on my mind, she worried, “What if no one read this? What if it is missed.” Ms King called the number on the letter and spoke with one of the women “to see if anyone got in touch and to thank them.”
The donors, wishing to remain anonymous, called Ms King back and said to her, “I can’t believe you called today of all days.” The woman told Ms King, “I have been worrying about how to get this done all day.”
As she and Ms King began forming a plan to get trees to Newtown, Ms King told the donor, “I felt blessed privileged, honored, chosen, and I promised her I would not stop investigating where to go with these trees until they found a home.” She spent several days making calls “until I knew there was a place to receive these trees. They want to give something long-lasting and of beauty.” Ms King spoke with Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold. She and Assistant Director Parks Carl Samuelson had an idea.
In mid-April, the tree plans became apparent.
“Much to the shock of many who visited Treadwell Park [on Monday, April 15],” Mr Samuelson told The Newtown Bee on April 22, 19 of its aging locust trees had been cut down. After hearing concerns at the time that the trees were “gone forever,” he said, “It is really the start of a better solution,” adding, “We are putting back more [trees] than we took down.”
The locusts, which had served their “useful life,” were starting to create safety issues, as well as blocking the parking lot lighting.
Zelkova trees “are a very urban-tolerant tree with beautiful fall color,” Mr Samuelson said. The branching habit, along with its root structure make the tree “a great selection for the site and soil conditions at Treadwell. We anticipate these trees to be a 50-plus-year addition to the park.”
Mr Samuelson said that in recent years “we knew we needed to do something [about the locusts]; we started having more and more issues with dead wood, disease, and branches coming down.” While he has been planning on how to budget and accomplish a tree project, the recent donation made it immediately possible, he said.
“Another great piece of this donation,” said Ms Mangold, “is that it came with funding for future care and custody for trees.” She said, “Proper care is vital for these special donations in honor of victims.”