Esplanade Association Launches L.E.A.F. Initiative to Help Sustain Park’s Tree Canopy

The Esplanade Association has launched a first-of-its-kind endowment to ensure the ongoing health of the park’s canopy of 1,700 trees along the Charles River.

Via the Lasting Esplanade Arbor Fund (L.E.A.F.), the first 20 new trees were planted last fall, with 32 more plantings coming this spring. Several hundred trees will be planted over the next 10 years as part of the initiative, which is the first step in creating a healthier and more resilient tree canopy along the Esplanade. The L.E.A.F. project and tree-planting plan follow Arthur Shurcliff’s historic plan for the park and received approval from the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and the Conservation Commission, according to the Esplanade Association.

Moreover, 32 of the park’s dead and dying trees will be removed this spring with the support from the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Partnership Matching Funds Program. DCR will lead and complete the tree removal process, and for each high-risk tree removed, another tree will be replanted, including more diverse species, such as the American Sweetgum, Black Tupelo “Wildfire,” Red Maple “October Glory” and several other types and cultivars. 

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Charles River Esplanade serves as an incredible natural resource offering recreational opportunities and invaluable programming for visitors to enjoy,” said DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery. “Enhancing the Esplanade’s tree canopy will ensure the park remains healthy and vibrant for years to come, and the Baker-Polito Administration is thrilled to continue its public-private partnership with the Esplanade Association as part of the agency’s Partnerships Matching Funds Program.”

Today, only four species comprise nearly 60 percent of the park’s trees, making them vulnerable to insect deforestation and less attractive a habitat for diverse wildlife species, and 15 percent of trees are dead or in poor condition, which pose a potential public-safety hazard. These high-risk trees, which have deteriorated to a point where they can no longer be saved, will continue to decline, making them more susceptible to pests, diseases and wood-decaying fungi. Trees suffering from these afflictions can become structurally unstable, resulting in branches, or even whole trees, falling, according to the Esplanade Association.

While the tree canopy might appear healthy from a distance, data from a 2015 inventory commissioned by the Esplanade Association in partnership with DCR, as well as from a recent assessment jointly performed by DCR’s arborist and the Esplanade Association’s certified staff arborist, shows underlying weaknesses that pose a threat to its long-term vitality.

“After careful study, the Esplanade Association realized that without intervention the Esplanade’s tree canopy was at risk of substantial losses in the years to come,” said Michael Nichols, the nonprofit’s executive director. “The Lasting Esplanade Arbor Fund, or L.E.A.F., will fund tree plantings, the removal of dead and dying trees, pruning, and other work that will ensure the health of the tree canopy for generations to come.”

The L.E.A.F. project is made possible by the Esplanade Association in partnership with DCR, along with support from the Boston Athletic Association; The Biber Foundation; the City of Boston’s Community Preservation Fund; The 1434 Foundation, Inc.; the Beacon Hill Garden Club; The Garden Club of the Back Bay; the Boston Planning and Development Agency; and the 2019 Visionary Award recipient Dan Mathieu.

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