A Downtown Tree

With a great deal of snow already falling, and more on the way, the City of Ithaca has developed something that will come in handy when the trees blossom once more. A new app, developed by the City, allows users to take their own self-guided and to readily provide interesting information. City of Ithaca Forester Jeanne Grace said the app was established to make the tours more accessible to the public. It can be found through the Parks and Forestry department’s page on the City of Ithaca’s website. 

Prior to the app’s creation, there were three tree tours developed. One was for Stewart Park with the other two covering the Fall Creek and Southside neighborhoods. A new tour was created, which serves as a guide to the trees surrounding the Department of Public Works building. 

“It was originally planted years ago as a demonstration site for trees that are low growing enough that you can plant them under power lines,” Grace said. “It had been there for a long time and people asked me about it. But none of the trees are labeled; there isn’t any information about them. So, we wanted to formalize that and make it available for people to come and check it out.”

The app has been in the works for two to three months now. Though the weather is frosty now, Grace said there is a plan to re-release the app in the spring when the leaves are back on the trees, and people interested in doing the tours don’t have to face the biting cold temperatures. The other tours, the Fall Creek and Southside neighborhood tours, were developed as a collaborative effort with Bike Walk Tompkins who was looking to promote a cycling event. During the summer, Grace picked out some trees for cyclists to learn about and the tour was successful. Ultimately this led to the creation of the Southside neighborhood tree tour for the fall. 

“Ideally, we’d like to keep working on this,” Grace said. “I’d love to do a tree tour for the city cemetery, which has some amazing trees in it. I’d love to do a tour for each neighborhood so Belle Sherman neighborhood, Downtown. Every neighborhood would have its own little tree tour that people could walk.”

Grace’s personal favorite is the Stewart Park Tree Tour that she created years ago. This tour has placards at each tree with more information available on the City of Ithaca’s website. With the app, this cuts out the inability to read the information about the tree unless using the city’s webpage. For her, it’s a unique way to explore the park. Grace said some of the challenges associated with getting this project done, specifically ensuring the app was developed for the public. 

“I think most of the time was put in by the GIS [geographic information systems] people,” Grace said. “My technician wrote up all the text and decided which trees would be on the tours but the GIS people took the skeleton of a tour app and basically just created it for us. They put a lot of time into making sure it works, making sure the pictures loaded, making sure the text was reading properly and all the links worked.” 

There are several factors that Grace considers important so people get the most out of Ithaca’s foliage. For her, the tours are about more than learning about the leaves of a tree but also the more minute details of tree species as well. 

“We look at things like tree size, so obviously big trees are impressive,” Grace said. “People want to see them and learn about them, but we also picked a lot of native species that people might not be aware of. We also chose non-native species that we plant that are just interesting that may have an interesting flower, interesting kind of food, or an interesting cultural history.”

An example of a tree with a unique cultural history, Grace said, is a Japanese Pagoda tree in Stewart Park that has a lot of significance in Buddhism. It’s usually planted around Buddhist cultural and holy sites. Being able to share things like that is why Grace wants to see people be able to do the tree tours on their own. She does have a recommendation for a tree everyone should take note of, though she does have quite a few favorite trees in Ithaca.

“One of the best trees that people should check out is there’s one on the Fall Creek tree tour,” Grace said. “It’s on the 700 block of N. Cayuga Street and it’s an enormous sycamore. That’s just a super impressive one. That’s the one that got the initiative for the biking tree tours started. It was like let’s put that one on the tree tour and then what can we build off of that. I think that’s a really cool tree.”

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