Ricketts Tree Program: 150 planted and counting

Sarah Wibell News

Having planted more than 150 trees in the city of Madison since  2001, The Ricketts Environmental Excellence (TREE) Trust is accepting applications until October 1 for 10-15 more trees to be planted in Madison residents’ yards. Managed by the city of Madison’s Greenspace Commission, the purpose of T.R.E.E. is to replenish trees through a grant program in which selected applicants only pay half of the cost of the tree while the fund covers the remainder, roughly $100-150 each.

Trees may be either requested for one’s own property or gifted to someone else.

Robert Trulock, who has gifted trees through the trust, affirmed, “Trees make a difference. They soften the landscape, create wildlife habitat, and lower the mean temperature. I contribute to the trust because I want it to continue to provide community benefits.”

The requirements for the grant are that recipients have to live in the city of Madison and should place the tree where it is visible from a public street or right-of-way.

Previous grant recipient Damian Wolfe commented, “It’s a terrific opportunity to plant a pretty good size tree for a very reasonable cost. The whole process was simple and very professional, especially being able to go online to the city website and choose which tree might work best on your property. I dropped off the check at City Hall, and they gave me a flag to place where I wanted them to plant it. Come Spring, a friendly crew showed up with heavy equipment, dug a hole and worked really hard to position the tree properly.

“Two things: this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to plant young trees in the neighborhood, especially because, for whatever reason, it seems the beautiful canopy of trees in Madison is diminishing. And on a practical note, I also appreciated that before they came to plant the tree, they came by and checked underground wires, pipes, et cetera.”

The trust was established through the bequest of Gwyn Thomas Ricketts. Originally from Eufaula, Alabama, Ricketts lived in Atlanta and worked as an interior designer. When Chris and Roy Lambert moved into their home in Madison, the designer assisted them in selecting color palates. Eventually, he met more and more locals and fell in love with the town.

“He didn’t have family nearby, so he’d spend a lot of days off and weekends in Madison,” Lambert recalled. “He was with me when we did beautification in Madison and planted trees downtown. He developed cancer and ultimately died in 2000. It turned out that I was the executor of his estate. I held an estate sale, and his will directed that the money from his estate would be divided between Madison and Covington – that’s where he ended up living – for beautification or for trees. With the help of Monica Callahan, we set up an account and wrote the rules that the earnings from that account would buy trees for the city. That’s when the Ricketts tree program began.”

Since then, the program has grown through both the account’s interest and individual donations, which are tax-deductible.

Lambert, who has the first Ricketts tree in her yard, pointed out that donations do not have to be large to make a difference: “Every month, the Magnolia Garden Club passes a can around and puts change in it, which might not be more than $12 or $15 a meeting, but we have contributed over $8,000 to that fund through the years.”

Madison Greenspace Commission Vice Chair Rick Crown attested, “TREE has been a wonderfully self-perpetuating program that actively encourages city property owners to enrich their landscape while beautifying our streetscapes and enhancing our urban forest. We offer four species each year with at least half of them native. Typically, peoples’ yards are much better growing sites than are the city rights of way where we normally get to plant trees, so we try to offer trees that may do better in a less challenging, more natural site, thereby adding another layer of environmental richness to our community. TREE is an innovative and generous community building program that is so great for Madison. The trust is typical of the good works done by Mrs. Lambert in crafting Mr. Ricketts’ generous bequest to provide an ongoing beneficial impact for perpetuity.”

“It’s time now for the applications, and I’m hoping people will take advantage of it,” Lambert stated.

Recipients will be announced on November 1.

More information and the link to the grant application can be found at: http://ga-madison.civicplus.com/index.aspx?NID=523.

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