Though the saying goes, "one can’t see the forest for the trees," this summer, Town Planning Intern John Meece helped Holly Springs staff and elected officials begin to see both. A student of forestry at NC State University, Meece inventoried 6,518 trees in 17 out of 30 Holly Springs neighborhoods that contain street trees during the three months of his internship.
"The partial inventory that John completed marks the beginning of an effort that Planning staff will work on completing, possibly next summer with another intern, to provide an overarching look at the condition of street trees in Holly Springs," said Gina Clapp, director of Planning & Zoning. "The inventory, at this point, is raw data that staff will continue to collect and study before drawing conclusions and providing recommendations to the Town Council within the year."
Street trees are those within the right-of-way or within the first 5-10 feet of residents' front yards. Street trees are seen as being beneficial because they absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, provide cooling through shade, reduce glare and noise, offer habitat for animals and birds, help maintain and raise home values, and contribute to the natural beauty and aesthetics of the community.
"I really appreciate street trees because they produce the image of being out in the wild and help us connect with the earth," Meece said.
In addition to documenting street tree locations with GPS technology, Meece noted the trees’ health, age and variety. He also documented if a tree posed any safety issue to vehicles or pedestrians.
"The Town of Holly Springs wanted to identify public safety issues and document what trees were out there," Meece said.
Meece said the vast majority – 90 percent – of the street trees he inventoried were healthy. Also, the majority of the trees he documented were between 10-20 years old. However, 62 percent were in need of roadside pruning and 8 percent in need of sidewalk pruning.
While the Town requires developers to plant street trees in subdivisions, Meece’s inventory was the first time the Town methodically compared what variety of trees developers planned to plant against what variety actually was planted.
"We wanted to see if there were discrepancies between what developers said and what was actually out there," Meece said.
Discrepancies were found. For example, while 35 percent of street trees were supposed to be red maples, Meece found red maples comprised 50 percent of the Town's street trees.
Red maples are fine street trees, Meece said. But if a disease that targeted that particular variety of trees was to spread, it could have a far-reaching effect in Holly Springs with so many red maples in Town.
"We, as a Town, strive for a diverse amount of species," Meece said.
Town Planner Laura Holloman said Holly Springs Planning & Zoning staff will finish Meece's study. In addition to continuing with the inventory of existing neighborhoods with street trees, she said staff will be inventorying the street trees developers plant as new neighborhoods are built. She said staff also will use data from the study to recommend tree varieties to developers, ensuring a diversity of tree varieties in Town.
"John laid an excellent groundwork for us as we continue to work to educate the public on street tree management," Holloman said. "This inventory will be a forever evolving tool that staff can use to keep accurate information on all of our street trees in town as we will continue to inventory street tree neighborhoods. This will no doubt ensure a positive future for our urban tree canopy."
Meece expects to graduate in May with a degree in Forest Management. He hopes to become a park ranger in the western United States. He said the internship with the Town of Holly Springs may help him in pursuit of that career.
"Urban forestry is very similar to a park-type forestry," he said.
He explained that singular trees in parks often are highlighted instead of the entire forest. One example, Meece said, is the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park.
"My internship also involved some public outreach, teaching people about trees and what to do with them," Meece said.
Click here to see Meece’s presentation from the Aug. 4 Holly Springs Town Council meeting.