She's All About Trees, But Don't Call Her 'Tree Hugger'

Greenwich Tree Conservancy's JoAnn Messina works to keep the green in Greenwich.


Greenwich Tree Conservancy (GTC) came to life in 2008. Now — 600 trees and 5-1/2 years later — green "gator bags" bearing GTC's logo are ubiquitous on town land. Dotting parks and roadsides, each young tree represents the conservancy's "vision of a healthy and beautiful townwide community forest."

This fall alone, the GCT has already planted 40 out of its goal of 100 trees.

Originally the non-profit public-private collaboraton sought to educate the citizenry and plant trees, with GTC purchasing trees and the Town doing the planting. But the conservancy has evolved in response to recent events.

First came the cost-cutting
According to JoAnn Messina, GTC Executive Director, during Jim Lash's tenure of First Selectman, two of four of the town's four-man tree crews were eliminated with an eye to cost savings and an expectation to outsource to tree specialists. "This may have made sense at the time," said Messina. "You select the tree expert you need in a given situation."

Then came the storms
Everything changed starting in 2010 with a major storm in March, followed by Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and the freak Halloween snow storm. With tree crews strapped, the Town and the Conservacy reversed roles, with the Town purchasing the trees and the GTC doing the planting.

Speaking to Patch on a mild October afternoon – ideal tree-planting weather – Messina explained that in the wake of massive storm cleanup, it became clear the Town crews couldn't do it all.

"I'm generally working with three local contractors to coordinate planting," said Messina who mentioned John Conte of Fairfield Home and Garden, Almstead, and Sam Bridge specifically. "We pay only the base Town rate, which is a reduced price. Before planting, the trees are delivered to the holding area in the corner of Bruce Park."

Messina, who works closely with Bruce Spaman, the town's Tree Warden and Superintendent of Parks & Trees, has become something of an expert herself. She co-chaired the forum "Power struggle: Balancing the Needs of People, Power, and Trees," which led to an invitation by the governor to participate in the "State Vegetation Management Task Force," collaborating with the DEEP, utility companies, other nonprofits and volunteers, telephone and communication companies, scientists, and tree wardens.

"Right Tree, Right Place"
The conservancy plants both ornamental and shade trees. "Under a wire we would site an ornamental tree. We'd put shade trees — hardwood trees — on the opposite side of the street from the lines or where there are no lines overhead," she explained. "Our motto is "Right Tree, Right Place."

The Case for "Undergrounding"
According to Messina the conservancy strongly supports undergrounding utility lines where possible. "Yes, it's more expensive. So we suggest when you have a new development or public safety complex, put the lines underground." Messina points out that undergrounded lines are far less likely to fail and that both Belle Haven and Khakum Wood communities are examples where undergrounding is successful.

Beyond the power outages, there are aesthetics to consider. "The CL&P lines are much higher and they're doing a lot of work to keep their wires taut and high," Messina pointed out. "The telephone companies and cable companies lines are lower and often droop down."

Commemorative Tree Program
Donors can arrange with GTC to plant a tree to commemorate service or accomplishments, or in honor of or in memory of individuals or notable events.

Shady Lanes Initiative
Each year the GTC targets three streets for tree planting: one in central Greenwich, one on the west side of town, and one on the east side of town. This year the streets are upper Lake Avenue, Glenville Road and Riverside Avenue.

Upcoming Events
Tree Contest. Monday, Oct. 22nd is the deadline for entries to the five categories in GTC's Fourth "Awesome Tree Contest."

  • Most Interesting Tree Branching
  • Most Gnarly Tree
  • Fattest Tree
  • Most Serene Tree
  • Storybook Tree

There is no fee to enter and prizes will be awarded at a ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Garden Education Center in Cos Cob.

"Fall is our planting season," said Messina. "Our goal is to plant 100 trees during October and November. So far we've planted 40 trees."

Greenwich residents who want to suggest a spot on public land for a tree to be planted can email a request to Joann Messina at jlmadd@optonline.net.

Mirella Hajjar October 22, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I live on Round Hill road and half of the trees lining up the road are either rotten or dead and no one seems to care about that. the town is waiting for the storm to take them down and we end up with one week of no electricity.
Leslie Yager October 22, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Today is deadline to enter GTC's Awesome Tree Contest. Entry form built in to this story.


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