Ridley Creek State Park is one of the largest contiguous areas of tree cover in the county and makes significant contributions to improved air quality and reduced pollution. The five-county region, which includes Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, has suffered an 8% (34,000 acres) loss of heavy tree cover since 2000. This reduction in tree canopy directly translates to increased storm water runoff, higher energy costs, and worsened air quality.
To address this problem, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) launched TreeVitalize in 2004 with support from Growing Greener. In one TreeVitalize project, volunteers planted 100 trees along Ridley Creek. For years, the riparian corridor along this section of the creek, which is situated in a floodplain, had been significantly impacted by tree cover loss, invasive plants, and downstream erosion. The tree plantings were part of an ongoing effort to restore 16 acres of the Ridley Creek corridor. Along with the removal of invasive plants and installation of warm season grass plugs, the trees will increase the canopy cover of the region (thereby reintroducing native plant species) and reduce flooding along the creek.
TreeVitalize aims to restore tree cover throughout the state. In southeastern Pennsylvania Tree Vitalize is administered by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and has a number of major focus areas including the city of Philadelphia, local municipalities, and regional watersheds. Michael Leff, TreeVitalize Program Manager at PHS in southeastern Pennsylvania, emphasizes the importance of the program. “This one initiative provides a wide range of benefits including storm water management, reduction of heat island effects, beautification, and the improvement of water quality. Pennsylvania’s TreeVitalize program is unique and the only regionally coordinated effort in the state that seeks to preserve tree cover.”
Tree planting is supported through a combination of trees, technical assistance, education, and funding. To receive a watershed grant, community and conservation groups match tree grants or trees supplied through a combination of cash and in-kind services from volunteers, municipal employees, and contractors. State funding for the program comes from DCNR and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) through Growing Greener, which provides funding for a variety of environmental conservation initiatives including open space preservation, watershed protection, and community revitalization. In addition, major private contributors in Southeastern Pennsylvania include the William Penn Foundation, Aqua Pennsylvania, PECO/Exelon, and the U.S. Forest Service.
To date, TreeVitalize in Southeastern Pennsylvania has planted over 100,000 trees and restored over 400 acres of forested riparian buffer. Over 2,600 people have attended PHS Tree Tenders© classes and volunteered to plant trees in neighborhoods. The program was expanded to include Pittsburgh in 2008 and DCNR is currently extending the initiative to the remaining 12 metropolitan regions of the state.