Even before “Gardening for the Greater Good” became a mantra for PHS, the PHS Tree Team had been focusing on the dearth of trees in the City of Chester. Trees provide so many benefits–from improving health to cost-effectively removing carbon from the environment, lowering surface temperatures, and reducing crime–that PHS knew it had to focus on Chester for some time.
Since 2008, certified arborist and former PHS Tree Tenders Program Manager Barley Van Clief has worked closely with Lisa Gaffney, Executive Director, Chester Economic Development Authority and Chester Shade Tree Commission Coordinator, to address and restore the struggling tree canopy in the City. In addition to attending Chester’s Shade Tree Commission meetings, Van Clief conducted several Tree Tenders Basic Training courses in Chester and coordinated and advised on the planting and care of hundreds of trees throughout the years, with major financial support from PennVest, TreePennsylvania’s TreeVitalize program and The HBE Foundation.
Through the years, the City of Chester lost a lot of trees due to development, inappropriate planting, and lack of maintenance. “They weren’t planting the right tree for the right place,” says Chester’s Gaffney.
She explains, “I was appointed to the Commission to coordinate volunteers, secure funding and coordinate plantings–things that no one else was doing. The City thought it would be good to have a functioning Commission and to recognize the importance of restoring the urban tree canopy in Chester. I didn’t know Barley and didn’t know anything about trees,” says Gaffney. “I must have told someone I like trees early on,” she says, “and the county has since attracted tree lovers and tree planters to the region.”
Since taking the role in 2008, Gaffney has been credited with overseeing the planting of 483 trees, including riparian plantings through the Chester Ridley Creek Watershed Association. She has cultivated a working relationship with Widener University that includes a dedicated Widener student who gets students involved in tree plantings. She also involves corporate groups–most recently, the Philadelphia Union soccer team staff, to come to Chester and do plantings.
The Chester Shade Tree Commission has also benefitted from state grants and corporate support through PHS by TD Bank and Accenture. The Chester Parks Department has also been an active partner, coordinating Chester park plantings with the Commission.
“It’s hard to get the resources for tree plantings and maintenance when the city is trying to provide basic services,” says Gaffney. Designated as an Act 47 (financially distressed) community by the state, resources are tight. “Trees aren’t the highest priority. We have buildings that collapse in the street and needs of the police and fire departments to fulfill. With the help of Barley and PHS, and private individuals, we can support tree planting and maintenance activities that would not otherwise be funded,” explains Gaffney.
In 2015, PHS and Chester were fortunate to receive a call from Mr. Bruce M. Brown of The HBE Foundation, asking PHS to help him and his brother Stuart H. Brown plant a grove of 18 trees at an engraved bench in Chester Park to commemorate the 100th birthdays of both of their parents. What began as 18 trees has grown into a relationship of ongoing support and enthusiasm for Chester’s greening initiative.
Most recently, The HBE Foundation provided generous support to provide additional trees and Tree Tenders training in Chester. By the fall of 2019, the Chester Tree Tenders volunteers completed the planting of 93 trees at local residences and other structures, as well as pruning of existing trees along Route 291.
"As a great-grandson of former Chester Mayor Howard Hathaway Houston, it gives me special pleasure to support Barley and Lisa's groundbreaking (pun intended) and ongoing greening of Chester City in Delaware County where I grew up,” says Brown.
“Chester's reputation of struggles has been giving way to a rebirth of blooming attitudes, diverse businesses, and new opportunities–creating a healthier community,” says Brown. He credits this to PHS's partnership with Chester's Shade Tree Commission. “Barley and Lisa have rolled up their sleeves, recruited and taught volunteers and perhaps pleasantly surprised both old residents and new visitors. Why should Philadelphia have all the fun?”