If a tree falls in Denver chances are very good someone will plant one back in its place.
That’s due, in large part, to Denver Digs Trees, a program of The Park People, a citywide parks improvement group, that distributes free and low-cost trees to residents twice a year.
“Our and Denver Forestry’s goal is to have a minimum of 18 percent canopy coverage throughout the city, and ideally that number is closer to 22 percent,” says Kim Yuan-Farrell, program manager of Denver Digs Trees. Unfortunately, she says, “We’re really far from that.”
Every year the city loses thousands of aging trees. And in some neighborhoods, there just aren’t very many at all. That’s why Denver Digs Trees wants to make it easy for people to plant trees—which come in the form of about 2-year-old, 6-foot-tall native varieties—throughout the city.
After a quick application, any Denver resident is eligible for a low-cost ($25) tree. And for those living in the program’s target areas—neighborhoods with low canopy or low-income neighborhoods—the trees are free.
Currently, the program has 23 target areas, and others are constantly being taken into consideration for inclusion. Although Yuan-Farrell says she’s had to work hard to get the word out about Denver Digs Trees in the target neighborhoods, so far, around 70 percent of the trees have ended up there.
“We partner with organizations that have close ties in those neighborhoods and work with community groups,” she says. “Our focus is to reduce as many of the barriers to obtaining trees as possible.”
The program has broken a few barriers for itself, too.
Officially founded in 1991 as a street tree program, Denver Digs Trees has modest roots.
“It started out in the garages of a couple of Denver residents more than 20 years ago,” says Yuan-Farrell. “And the city really embraced it.”
Denver Digs Trees is now funded through grants, but Yuan-Farrell says it’s able to operate because it gets what she calls “very-reduced pricing” from suppliers in eastern Oregon, which has a similar climate and soil make-up to Colorado. That allows the program to offer a variety of tree species appropriate for Colorado’s climate and urban environment.
Alhough the staff is still only two people, Yuan-Farrell says they have about 300 volunteers at each distribution, and the program distributes nearly 3,000 trees annually, with a spring distribution for street trees and one for yard trees in the fall.
Until last year, the program only distributed street trees—which were to be planted close to the curbside in the “tree lawn” between the sidewalk and curb—each spring. In 2009, Denver Digs Trees added a yard tree component, along with an annual fall distribution.
“People are really excited about free and low-cost yard trees for their properties,” Yuan-Farrell says. “The whole purpose is providing natural shade cover and reducing the energy used for summer cooling.”
Every tree designated for this year’s fall distribution on Oct. 2, 2010, was claimed early. (Traditionally, any unclaimed trees are sold for $35 following the distribution dates.)
“Trees define neighborhoods, make places more walkable, filter pollution and provide shade,” Yuan-Farrell says. “There’s a really broad quality-of-life benefit to providing trees.”
For Denver residents interested in street trees or yard trees in the future, visit Denver Digs Trees’ website.