It wasn’t the opening of a new county building or a groundbreaking that brought two county legislators to Montgomery Hills in Silver Spring on Saturday, but rather trees.
Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and Del. Al Carr (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington stopped by the neighborhood to address a crowd of 15 volunteers gathered for a community tree planting day.
This was the first time Casey Trees, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on the awareness, education and engagement surrounding tree planting, expanded its work into the county.
The Montgomery Hills section of Silver Spring, located just off the Capital Beltway along Georgia Avenue, was selected as the first location in the county because its tree canopy is at only 8 percent, in comparison to the countywide tree canopy, which is about 50 percent, said Caren Madsen, chairwoman of Conservation Montgomery — a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the environment and quality of life in the county.
Jared Powell, Casey Trees’ director of communications and development, said Saturday was the “re-treeing of a much-needed area.”
About a dozen young trees were planted — and paid for by Casey Trees — around the parking lot of Snider’s Superfoods on Seminary Road in Silver Spring, including two fruitless sweetgums, five swamp white oaks, five American hornbeam trees and one Eastern redbud, Madsen said. All of the trees are indigenous to Maryland, which Madsen said makes them better acclimated to the conditions in the state and allows them to withstand the elements.
“This area has the absolute lowest tree cover in the entire county,” Madsen said, adding that the space looks like one large concrete parking lot in aerial views. “You lose some humanity when you don’t have green space.”
The 8 percent tree canopy in Montgomery Hills is just one area in Silver Spring that has a low percentage, said Madsen, who said that the Long Branch area has about 13 percent and the Silver Spring central business district sits at about 14 percent.
Melinda Housholder — director of the urban forest program for American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization — said there is a lot of variation from region to region, so it is hard to determine a recommended tree canopy percentage for residential urban areas. She said species diversity, age diversity and health risks help determine the practicality of urban tree canopy.
She said she is unable to determine why Montgomery Hills has such a low tree canopy, but did say it may come down to funding and city resources designated to maintaining and contributing to the tree canopy.
Jessica Sanders, director of technical services and research for Casey Trees, said this is the company’s first foray into Montgomery County. She said it hopes to develop a relationship to increase the tree canopy across the region through future projects in Montgomery County.
“Community tree plantings are important because not only are they helping to increase the canopy of the area, but they are also connecting people to the trees,” Sanders said in an email. “When people feel connected to the trees, there is a greater stewardship aspect involved and there is a greater tie to the community when the trees need to be cared for.”
Danté Martin, 11, of Silver Spring was one of the community members who came out to volunteer this weekend. He said Madsen noticed he was watering trees in the area over the summer and reached out to his mother, Rose Howe, to see if they would be interested in planting trees.
“He learned a lot about the trees and oxygenation and the coverage they give to the community here,” Howe said of her son’s work with trees over the summer for his Student Service Learning hours. “I want to instill in him more volunteering opportunities and to learn more about the conservation of trees.”
She and Danté said the tree planting was hard work, but were glad to help beautify the community.
“It gives it, I guess you could say, nature’s beauty,” Danté said.