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Tracking the Trees

Great Falls Heritage Tree Census seeking large tree submissions from the community.

When Bill Canis was 14, he lived in a 200-year-old home in west New York state, with a very old, giant Elm tree on the property that Canis loved very much. Long after his family moved, Canis read in a newspaper that an application to build a gas station on his family’s old property had been submitted, and a City Council public hearing on the matter was scheduled. At the subsequent hearing, the application was approved — the 200-year-old home was leveled, and the giant Elm tree was chopped down.

“If it had been in the name of progress, if a school had gone there, that would have been one thing,” said Canis, who currently resides in Great Falls with his family. “But it was for a gas station, and you know what? Ten years later that gas station was abandoned because that corner wasn’t a good location for a gas station.”

The wasteful destruction of his former home and beloved Elm tree left a lasting mark on Canis. Today, as a member of the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) and the leader of the organization’s Heritage Tree Project, Canis is determined to prevent such loss from happening in Great Falls.

THE ONGOING Heritage Tree Census has been the key component to the Great Falls Citizens Association Heritage Tree Project. Last September, Canis issued a challenge to the residents of Great Falls to find, document and submit for consideration, the largest trees they could find in the community.

Canis has been accepting submissions all year, and will continue to do so through May, at which time, all of the submitted tree entries will be recorded, reviewed and compared. The largest tree of those submitted will be announced as “the winner” of the Heritage Tree Census at this year’s Great Falls Fourth of July celebration. According to Canis, 130 trees have already been nominated for the project.

“We’d like to have this completed by the end of our next fiscal year, which is the end of June,” said Jackie Taylor, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association.

Canis says that he believes the tree census is important because large trees are an essential part of the semi-rural character of the Great Falls community.

“A lot of us moved here because of the woods, and one of the things that tells us this used to be a farm community are the big trees,” said Canis at the March 10 Great Falls Citizens Association general session. “Trees are the anchor of what this town used to be … if all the big trees in Great Falls are lost, we will lose that semi-rural feel.”

Entering a tree into the Heritage Tree Census is relatively easy.

“All you need is a tape measure and a piece of string,” said Canis.

Residents who have large trees on their property, or know of a large tree in the Great Falls area, simply need to wrap the string around the trunk of the tree and then measure the length with a tape measure. Once the measurements have been tabulated, they can be submitted to the census via an online tree registration form at www.gfcitizens.com, or a paper form, available from Bill Canis.

LOCAL RESIDENT and artist Marcia Fouquet attended the April 10 Great Falls Citizens Association general session for the sole purpose of finding out more about the Heritage Tree Census. Fouquet resides on a property off of Walker Road known as Shady Oak.

“I have a big tree on my property,” said Fouqet. “I’m the owner of the ‘Shady Oak.’”

Fouquet said she intended to measure and submit her “shady Oak” the following day.

Canis hopes that many people will participate in the tree census, as it will have a long-lasting impact on the community.

“You might live here now and in five years move away, but the inventory lives on,” said Canis.

He added that it is important to document and preserve as many large trees as possible because community awareness will help to protect them from being pushed aside in the name of development. Canis cited several sad examples of such instances in Great Falls — a 300-year-old Beech tree on a residential property on Beech Mill Road, and the 120-year-old White Oak tree on Walker Road that was killed when a power utility box had to be moved just a few feet.

“We don’t lose all of these big trees at once,” said Canis. “There’s not a big flashing neon sign that says ‘hey everyone, Great Falls is about to lose all of its trees.’ We lose all of these assets one by one.”