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Deep Roots
Maplewood's trees are some of the finest in the state. But that didn't just happen by accident.
by Melanie Northfield

Everyone has a reason for residing in Maplewood. It could be the easy access to New York City, the excellent school system, the feeling of living in a close-knit small town community. But, for whatever the reason, the one thing I think has attracted every one of us to Maplewood is the little piece of heaven found in our beautiful environmental surroundings. It can be quite a sight to behold.

Think of it this way: Every spring the blossoms come alive on the 20,000+ lush shade trees that line the streets and grow in the parks of Maplewood; every fall the leaves put on a display and create a beautiful sight with their impressive autumn colors, and every winter the freshly fallen snow glistens on the tree limbs. The trees create also a peaceful, serene surrounding. They make taking a walk more pleasurable, driving to and from work more relaxing, and just being able to enjoy the town — well, just more enjoyable.

Now we might take for granted this beauty that surrounds us. But did you know that the planting of our trees, even the flowers and shrubs, were planned deliberately to create harmony within the Maplewood community?

For newcomers in Maplewood, the name Richard G. Walter might not ring a bell. But for those who have resided here for over 50 years, Mr. Walter is something of an environmental legend. Had it not been for him, the beautiful trees that make Maplewood such a beautiful place to live, might not exist today.

The year was 1956. After 10 years of research and study, a tree planting program began in Maplewood thanks in large part to Maplewood Supervisor of Parks and Shade Trees, Richard Walter. Mr. Walter began studying the idea of a tree program 10 years prior to the actual establishment of the program. In 1955 the creation of the tree planting program became a reality when a 3/4-acre tract of land behind the municipal greenhouse (behind Town Hall) was purchased and became the municipal nursery. The nursery contained 1200 various kinds of trees which were nurtured for eventual transplanting of which approximately 400 were transplanted yearly.

To determine which types of trees to grow in 1956, the research process that started years earlier ascertained that the trees growing along the streets were oversized and interfered with overhead wires, produced broken curbing, stretched roots into sewers, and, also, prevented growth of grass and bushes. So new selections were chosen which provide shade but do not grow above 36 feet. They were ornamental in foliage and flowers and helped improve the landscape decor. For areas with limited space (sidewalks, edgings, for instance) trees such as Scotch maples, flowering cherry, honey and black locust, ironwood, and Chinese scholar and plain leaf maple trees were chosen. And for areas where there was a lot of room, such as park areas, more common trees were planted, such as the Norway and silver maples, pin oak, and buttonwood.

Well, back to 1998. And what became of the famous tree planting program that began so many years ago? “Richard had a great idea when he wanted to plant smaller trees by the sidewalks, but because many of these trees were from foreign soil, we didn’t know the outcome,” said Newt Meeker, who today is the Supervisor of Park and Shade Trees. “Many of the trees that were supposed to grow only 36 feet high often grew well above 50 feet, such as the beautiful Flowering Callery Pear(PYRUS calleryana). We were experimenting. At least we tried.”

Newt further went on to say, that while the tree planting program still today wholeheartedly is endorsed by the Maplewood Township Committee, over the years the nursery proved not to be cost effective due to manpower and increased demands on departmental personnel, so in the early 1990’s, the nursery was phased out. Still, one thing hasn’t changed. The trees still are lovingly preserved and approximately 125-150 trees are purchased each year and planted by the Maplewood Parks and Shade Tree Departments. “And if we’re lucky,” says Newt, “additional plantings are possible through funds from other departments, such as the 75 additional trees planted last year as a result of funding from the Maplewood Engineering Department.”

In addition to the yearly tree plantings, the greenhouse is still in operation and is the home for a few thousand bedding plants that are planted around town each year, including begonias, yucca, impatiens. cannas, daisies — there’s even a cactus garden at the Maplewood Pool. There are also ornamental plantings and the planting of over 3000 bulbs each year. According to Mr. Meeker, “Maplewood is one of the few — and might be the only town — that raises its own from seeds, cuttings, and division (dividing roots from one plant).” Newt should know. He’s been working in a nursery since he was 13 years old. In 1964 he started working with Richard Walter and was appointed full-time Assistant Supervisor of Maplewood’s Parks and Shade Trees in 1971. In the mid ‘70’s, Newt was promoted to the position he now holds. Also he is a life member of the Arborist’s Association of New Jersey.

Yes, there’s nothing like the beautiful trees and environmental surroundings of Maplewood. We thank the Maplewood Parks and Shade Tree Departments for taking care of the groves of towering trees that help make Maplewood a nice town in which to live and, as Mr. Walter once said, “help enhance real estate values by improving the appearance of properties and (good or bad) attracting birds,” to our town.

The next time you happen to have some time to stroll through our town and discover the feeling of being at one with nature, think of this quote written long ago by Maplewood’s famous landscape artist, Asher B. Durand:

“To be able to stand for an hour before some fine tree, in direct sympathy with it! I had done so when a boy on long summer days, and now, when a man, I had a higher appreciation of it than ever, and enjoyed it all the more- the great happiness of standing face to face with nature!”

Asher Brown Durand 1796-1886,

considered by many to be the founder of the American School of Landscape Painting

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