For Margaret Walker, the Chautauqua Oaks Project helps preserve what makes her neighbourhood unique: the trees.
“Come a hundred years from now, we’ll still have a tree canopy in Chautauqua, which is what Chautauqua is all about to me,” she said. “It’s the trees.”
The project, whose goal is to preserve the heritage tree canopy in the area, continues to thrive thanks to collaborative efforts among Niagara-on-the-Lake residents, the Town of NOTL and Niagara College.
A special ceremony at Ryerson Park on Tuesday recognized contributions made by community residents, volunteers and town officials, who all were presented with “Acorn Awards” – an acorn with an attached note that read, “I helped make a forest grow.”
Three Chautauqua Oak trees seedlings, which were grown at the college, were also presented to the Town of NOTL. Lord Mayor Betty Disero was on hand to accept the gift.
In recent years, the aging tree canopy in Chautauqua has been under a threat of thinning out and disappearing for a variety of reasons, including disease, wind and construction.
Chautauqua residents Leslie Frankish and Holmes Hooke led the effort, with help from other residents, after they became concerned about the disappearing canopy. They started advocating for its preservation by creating the Chautauqua Oaks Project.
Since it launched in 2016, a team of volunteer residents completed a tree inventory – a 181-page spreadsheet listing 1,502 trees plus each tree’s location and size. They also developed a community tree plan and started replanting trees.
Out of the planned 400 trees needed for rejuvenation of the forest, 80 trees have been planted so far.
The project grew bigger in 2018 when Niagara College’s School of Environmental and Horticultural Studies joined in to help restore the native oak canopy. College students came out to the neighbourhood to harvest acorns from Chautauqua’s oak trees and to grow seedlings at the school.
More than a dozen college students were also on hand Tuesday harvesting acorns. All the acorns they collected will be taken to the college for propagation at the greenhouse.
The trees will grow at the college’s nursery for a few years and once they reach a healthy height, they will be replanted in Chautauqua and throughout NOTL.
There are currently about 150 white oak trees growing at the college. This coming year, the college will be growing red oaks, said Niagara College horticulture professor Mary Jane Clark.
“It’s a good experience for them (students),” Clark told The Lake Report. “It shows them how their skills can be put to use to help the community and they’re really excited about that.”
For Elias Abraham, a student in the college’s greenhouse technician program, it was a “great project” and his first time harvesting acorns.
“It’s really cool to be involved in the community and be able to do something that’s going to shape community for years to come,” Abraham said.
Area resident Robin Patterson said college students and an instructor came to her house, where she has about 12 red oaks in her yard. She said many trees have been taken down in the neighbourhood because of new homes being built, so planting trees helps “keep the balance.”
“I’m glad the squirrels get them (acorns) but I’m even happier more trees are planted,” she said.
Alan Unwin, the college’s associate dean of School of Environmental and Horticultural Studies, said he was excited about the project’s success so far.
“Really, really excited for the students to be able to proactively contribute to a project like this,” Unwin said. “I think it’s going to be a great legacy for them as well.”