The City of Conway is serious about its designation as a Tree City USA and it’s proving it once again by planting $35,000 of trees in areas where Hurricane Florence’s flooding hit hardest.
City officials point to city arborist Wanda Lilly as being the inspiration behind applying for the grant from the Arbor Day Foundation that also includes support from FedEx and Verizon.
City employees have already planted about 100 weeping willows along Crabtree Canal between Main Street and the railroad trestle, hoping to keep the banks from eroding and to suck up lots of water coming from rain and more that’s flowing in the Canal.
Lilly says they won’t know for a while just how much water the trees can soak up, but says they will do an analysis of the trees the week of Oct. 7 in an effort to also see how much carbon they are taking from the atmosphere, how well they’re protecting the canal’s banks from erosion and more.
Lilly says tree placement was based on several factors including where they can grow the largest canopies and where they avoid the asphalt walking path and area water and sewer lines.
City Administrator Adam Emrick also isn’t willing to put a gallon count on the trees, but said, “It’ll be a good way to reduce the water table in that area because weeping willows love to suck up the water.”
He said every time people voice their concerns about the environment, they talk about cutting trees and the amount of water they could have sucked up. He also pointed out that many trees were lost in this past year’s flooding.
Lilly said about 37 trees have been planted in various other city properties around Conway. Oaks were planted along Marina Drive, at the Conway Riverwalk and at Sherwood and Collins parks.
“So Crabtree was just part of the big scheme of things,” Lilly said.
Perhaps the largest part of the project is a tree giveaway that will come Saturday in conjunction with the Conway Strong festival.
Beginning at 9 a.m. in Riverfront Park, the City plans to give away 240 three-gallon container trees and 750 saplings. Residents who want the trees need to go to the site of the former Fireman’s Clubhouse.
The trees will be given away on a first-come, first-serve basis. Emrick points out that the trees to be given away are very desirable species including cypress, oaks and dogwoods.
People who get the trees are asked to take pictures of themselves planting the trees and then share them on social media.
Lilly will be there to give helpful hints to anyone who wants advice on where and how to plant the trees and how to tend them, according to Emrick.
At 11 a.m., the action will move to Sherwood Park where there will be a ribbon-cutting for the newly-refurbished park.
Emrick says the goal of this tree restoration project is to replace what was lost in the flood.
Lilly is clear about her motivation for pursuing the grant.
“Anytime you plant a tree, you’re doing a great service to everything. I hope that the community comes out and gets their free trees and plants them and sends a photo back in and enjoys them,” she said.
And as for the impact of the trees, she said, “They can be for natural rainfall, certainly water going into the canal and the flow of the canal itself…They’ll take up as much water as they can.”
Deputy city administrator/grants and special projects director John Rogers also credits Lilly with initiating the tree restoration program and with actually writing the grant herself.
“I think it’s going to be great for both beautifying the city and making us more flood resistant,” Rogers said, adding that it will help replace city vegetation lost in the flood.
The city took requests for proposals before spending its grant money and then bought the plants from Plants Direct.