As decades-old trees are chopped down to make way for ritzy apartments within scooter-ing distance of dog boutiques, many Nashvillians are wondering what the impact of the dwindling canopy might be on Music City. Rachel Gladstone, who has lived in the Nations for the past 16 years and has made a habit of fighting to save Nashville’s trees, says it was about eight years ago when trees really started falling.
“As the builders started coming in, they started taking out mature trees by the hundreds and stripping the neighborhood completely,” she remembers. “[Before all the development], there were a lot of older homes and a lot of mature trees. Now, not so much. On Tennessee Avenue, an entire block was taken down."
The Nashville Tree Foundation, which was founded by Betty Brown in 1986 (Brown died in 2011), has planted more than 11,000 trees in Davidson County. Now, to combat the decline in Nashville’s trees, the foundation will be launching a city-wide partnership in October called Root Nashville to replant trees around the community. “The campaign's goals are very aggressive to add to the canopy. We are stepping up and making our contributions,” says Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of The Nashville Tree Foundation.
Root Nashville will be marked by the Nashville Tree Fest, a three-week-long campaign aimed at a healthier, greener Nashville. Through the fest, The Nashville Tree Foundation will provide 800 free container-grown trees to Davidson County residents, available at farmers markets around the county through Oct. 12.
According to Nashville Tree Foundation president Noni Nielsen, Metro-owned land represents only five percent of the land in Davidson County, and the foundation wants to encourage more homeowners and neighborhoods to plant trees as a means of combating climate change, absorbing carbon dioxide, supporting clean air and water and cooling city streets and neighborhoods.
“Increasingly over the past few years, there has been a lot of threat to the urban tree canopy — from aging trees to the rapid growth of the city,” Sorenson says. “In addition to the trees that we’re giving away, we are going to have tree experts who are going to be able to provide education on how to plant and water the tree.”
Sorenson says the foundation team plans to map where trees are going to be around the county to measure the impact on Nashville communities.
“The beauty about the free tree program is that because we plant these larger trees in low-income areas, there are other areas of town [represented in those that receive the trees] where we are able to have a presence. It enables us to be very intentional about planting.”
Gladstone says her hope for the project is that communities around the city realize the importance of keeping what’s left of Nashville’s greenery intact and of replenishing the tree canopy.
“I’ve been fighting to save our trees — before, I took trees for granted because they were here, and now I’m fighting because they’re not," Gladstone says. "There are no laws in place for trees or historic buildings. It doesn’t seem like Nashville cares about its history and the things that used to make it so desirable. I always thought that Nashville was a big city with a small-town feel and as we lose trees, we lose that feeling."
One hundred trees will be available at eight farmers markets in October. For more information on where to find and reserve a free tree, head to nashvilletreefoundation.org.