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Neighborhood Report

Thick about the middle? It might be a grand tree

Volunteers identify about 60 trees, mostly oaks, as befitting the title of grand by measuring girth, spread and height.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2003

Earl Tripp grew up in Michigan surrounded by miles of forest.

At age 78, he still loves trees. He planted a sprig of an oak on his Ballast Point property in 1957, and now, he's proud to say, it's so big it's recorded in a special city registry.

On Monday, Tripp was among 14 volunteers who measured other "grand" trees, so-named through a point system based on their circumference, canopy spread and height.

Citywide, other volunteers helped at parks, schools and nonprofit agencies as part of the third Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Some prepared meals and cleaned up playgrounds. Others removed invasive plants, spread mulch and planted flowers.

At the Tree Blitz at Gadsden Park in Ballast Point, volunteers divided into teams, armed with metal measuring tapes, calculation forms and good, strong eyes to see the farthest branches. A grand tree needed at least 175 points.

"This opens up awareness about trees," said Michael Van Schoick, a member of Blake High School's ecology club who, along with classmates Stephanie Quintero and Kate Norton, collected hours of community service.

Other volunteers, including Tripp and Tony Hamilton, learned how to evaluate grand trees last year.

"Our neighborhood motto is so true," Hamilton said. "Where the Grand Oaks Meet the Bay."

The teams measured 100 trees, identifying about 60 as grand. City staff will review those for entry into the grand tree registry, which can help educate people about the importance of trees, said Melanie Higgins, immediate past president of the Ballast Point homeowners association.

Oak trees are most often grand, but other species can include red maple, bald cypress, southern magnolia, sweet gum, sycamore and red cedar.

Oaks reigned during Monday's blitz. At each house on the list, Tripp and his sidekick, Jake Sann, fit their tape measure snugly around each tree. Then, they spread out the tape in two directions, marking off how far each canopy reached. Tripp gazed upward, often taking off his cap to study the farthest branches.

Higgins marked down the numbers, figuring the final results. She used a height of 50 feet, which grand trees average, unless she and Tripp -- experienced at this job -- decided they were taller.

The three stopped at the home of Kim Jago on Second Street. The homeowners association scouted out many of the candidate trees, but Jago read about the project and asked someone to come by.

"We bought this whole property to try and protect the trees," she said of the 150- by 150-foot lot she and her husband, Don Morrison, purchased in November.

The couple's wood-frame home nestles on about half the lot. Chain-link fence encloses the rest. A live oak standing by the fence's edge was one of Monday's noblest finds, logging 199 points.

Jago said her three dogs love to race in the yard. She and her husband want to add a vegetable garden, flowers and other vegetation, she said, but not build a bigger house.

"We want to do anything we can to protect our green space."

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