Trees are a financial asset to the community and the City of Cody should treat them as such.
Anne Young – who founded Canal Park and spearheaded its development – emphasized the importance of trees during public comment at a June 16 city council meeting.
“We’ve got to get water on them,” Young said. “Water is everything. Water is life.”
Noting many trees have died, Young expressed concern the mature stand of trees in Canal Park on the hillside between Alger Avenue and the Cody Rec Center had indirectly fallen victim to the novel coronavirus.
The COVID-19 crisis that started in March left the city parks department understaffed. As a result, broken irrigation system at Canal Park went undetected and in a dry spring, trees went without water through May.
Each year the city turns its raw water system on in early May. But some pipes for lawn irrigation were broken, and there weren’t enough park workers to address the issue, Young said.
“So we missed out.”
She said seven of 12 honey locust trees at the park’s lower Alger Avenue entrance appeared dead along with seven ash trees on the upper level.
“It made me very sad when I realized it,” Young said.
The canal system’s purpose is for outdoor watering, she said, pointing out the need at times to water trees in the winter.
Young’s observation came on the same night city councilors passed the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget with a 17% reduction from the previous fiscal year budget expenses.
“I appreciate you are all struggling now,” she said. “But trees are a financial asset and there’s a cost when trees are lost.”
She suggested the city take inventory of its trees and form some type of committee to address city tree issues in addition to allocating more money toward tree care.
When parks supervisor Eric Asay was alerted to the water line problem, he was on the job at 5:30 a.m. fixing the issue, Young said.
“We are so grateful they did that,” she said.
Before the council meeting Asay had met with Young to discuss the most problematic trees in Canal Park.
After determining some ash trees on the upper level were indeed dead, Asay removed five.
Raw water is used to irrigate Canal Park; However, park staff do not water or fertilize mature city trees, Asay said. Those trees benefit from general lawn watering and fertilizing. Many of the trees lost were 10 inches in diameter.
Acknowledging insufficient water was a factor, Asay said the cause of the trees’ demise wasn’t totally due to a lack of irrigation. Rather, it was a combination of conditions.
Based on his research, ash trees throughout Cody “took a big hit” due to big temperature swings last fall and winter combined with a dry spring.
“Trees had a hard time coming out of it,” he said.
Young heads up a committee dedicated to maintaining Canal Park. She hired Arbor Solutions to remove dead trees at the Alger Avenue entrance to the park.
Two honey locust trees from the park’s lower level near the Alger entrance are now gone.
Aaron Danforth, Arbor Solutions owner, said the honey locusts in Canal Park had been struggling for a few years. They were further weakened when they didn’t receive enough water this past year. Then insects exfoliated the tree leaves.
“The bug may have exacerbated existing issues,” he said. “But the bug was not the source of mortality.”
Danforth said trees undergo a second summertime leafing, so he’s confident the rest of the trees in Canal Park will be fine.
Asay said after learning honey locusts in Canal Park were infected by a “pretty big outbreak” of a bug that knocks leaves off tree branches, park staff sprayed insecticide on most trees in Cody’s other parks and on city land along Greybull Hill.
Park County has sprayed trees with insecticide in its complex off Stampede Avenue as well.
COVID an issue
Asay said the city does not have money in its budget to buy new trees, so there’s no plan to replace the lost ash trees on the park’s upper level. Fewer trees in the area may help those remaining survive, he said.
Young said the Canal Park Advisory Committee immediately responded to improve the most visible area – the Alger Avenue side of Canal Park on the lower level.
For the upper level, the committee bought one Canada red tree . Young said that species is hardy and seems to thrive in that location.
“We were forced to reach into private funds because the city isn’t funding (park trees) enough,” she said. “Our mission is to work together with the city. They’re all hardworking people. There’s just not enough money to get it all done.”
On the upside, many trees are doing well despite the unusual weather conditions.
Asay said cottonwood and evergreen trees are doing fairly well, and trees along downtown Sheridan Avenue with roots under concrete are fine, even though that water system doesn’t work.
“Also, COVID has definitely played a major role in our challenges being worse this year – either through reducing our budget or reducing our workforce,” he said.
The city expects less sales tax revenue due to the pandemic’s impact on tourism. The city parks department’s full-time employees went from four to two FTEs and it’s lost some expertise with employee changes.
“Once we get back to being more fully staffed and being able to rely on a budget to have contractors to help us with shortfalls, it will be a little different,” Asay said.
Developed in 2006, the 10-acre Canal Park was created with strong community support.
It includes multi-use pathways, an amphitheater, hill slides and interpretive information.
When Young bought the property in 1999, it was barren land used as a gravel pit during the Greybull Highway construction.
The park was developed with a $1 million-plus Department of Environmental Quality Abandoned Mine Lands grant used to recontour the hillside and over $1 million raised locally by the Canal Park Committee assembled by Young.
An architect designed the park as pro bono work and the committee designated a budget for trees and irrigation.
“We created a terrific park,” Young said.“People get married out here all the time.”
As if to prove her point, on Tuesday, the council approved an open container permit for an Aug. 1 wedding and reception in Canal Park.
In 2009 Canal Park was turned over to the City of Cody, which agreed to take full responsibility for the park’s operation and maintenance.
On June 16, Young reminded council members of that obligation and questioned a lack of funds in the park budget dedicated to keeping trees alive and healthy.
“I looked at the city budget,” Young said. “I was sad to see there’s not much money in the budget for irrigation and nothing to speak of for trees.”
Darlene McCarty, Canal Park volunteer, reminded the council of people’s expectations.
“We think of the donors who gave us money in good faith and trusted us to (take care of the park),” she said.
“There’s wealth in trees, so please take care of them,” Young said.
Expressing appreciation for Young’s input, councilman Glenn Nielson pointed to the city’s lack of financial resources.
“Do you see any place in the budget where you see we can take from?” he asked. “That’s a constraint we struggle with.”
Mayor Matt Hall told Young to contact the City of Cody Tree Board and to “feel free” to check back with the mayor and council.