Putting down roots: Morton Arboretum helps communities plant more than 1,800 trees

The man who would establish the Morton Arboretum grew up in a family of tree lovers.

Joy Morton’s father organized the first Arbor Day. Their family motto? “Plant Trees.”

In keeping with the Morton mantra, the arboretum is distributing $6.9 million in federally funded grants to help nearly two dozen communities throughout Illinois plant and care for trees. The city of Elgin, the Roselle Park District and the village of Streamwood are among the suburban grant recipients.

The arboretum’s Chicago Region Trees Initiative is administering the funding — provided by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — on behalf of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The arboretum program works to support the health, diversity and equitable distribution of trees in the seven-county Chicago metropolitan area.

“These initiatives are not just about planting trees,” said Zach Wirtz, the Chicago Region Trees director. “They’re about creating long-lasting, positive impacts in our communities.”

Collectively, units of government will use the grants to plant and care for more than 1,800 trees, establish a new community fruit orchard, remove nearly 300 high-risk or dead trees, prune more than 500 trees and clear 30 acres of woody invasive species, among other projects.

The arboretum’s Chicago Region Trees Initiative will provide technical assistance to grant recipients. “Their urban forestry work over the next few yeas will have an impact for generations to come,” Arboretum President and CEO Jill Koski said at a news conference with federal lawmakers. Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

“I commend you and those who collaborate with you locally for the commitments you have made to bring the benefits of trees and a healthy urban forest to each of your communities,” Arboretum President and CEO Jill Koski said Monday at a gathering of grant recipients.

The arboretum’s scientists have shown how well-maintained trees help cool temperatures, improve air quality and curb flooding. The arboretum launched the Chicago Region Trees Initiative 10 years ago with a mission to reduce the threats posed by tree pests and diseases, invasive plant species, land development and a changing climate.

“I was blown away by the number of applications that we received for this grant. It was by far our most competitive award process to date,” Wirtz said.

The Roselle Park District will receive $87,486 to partially update its tree inventory, remove 95 dead ash trees and plant 80 news ones. The grant also will allow the district to update an urban forestry management plan and train one employee to become a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture.

Elgin will receive $49,239 to plant 100 trees. The Round Lake Area Park District will use $50,000 to remove invasive woody species and hazardous trees in 14.3 acres of Fairfield Park and to complete outreach, volunteer and educational work.

The city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District were awarded $3 million and $1.48 million, respectively.

“As the recipient of unprecedented U.S. Forest Service Inflation Reduction Act funds, IDNR is thrilled to see these resources extended to Illinois communities,” agency Director Natalie Phelps Finnie said in a statement. “We are excited and eager to see the massive urban and community forestry gains that will be made in underserved and disadvantaged areas of Illinois.”

All told, the arboretum received more than 60 applications requesting more than $14 million for projects in disadvantaged areas of the state, as defined by federal screening tools.

“We know that equitable investment in the urban tree canopy has so many benefits, on our health, on the health of our communities, on our environment, on our ecosystems, on our household finances and our regional economies,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez, who attended the gathering at the Lisle arboretum with other federal lawmakers.

Applications are now open for nearly $7.9 million in additional Inflation Reduction Act funding awarded to the arboretum by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Those grants will provide funding assistance to nonprofits, government entities, community-based organizations and other groups.

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