Columbia's Street Tree Assessment Team member named Volunteer of the Month

Friday, June 3, 2011 | 7:20 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBIA — Armed with a bucket of fertilizer and his lopper, Roger Gadbois, 66, spent his Friday afternoon in the heat maintaining trees instead of taking his daily nap.

Gadbois is a volunteer for Columbia's Street Tree Assessment Team.

The team project started in 2009 at the suggestion of Gadbois. The team consists of a group of 14 trained volunteers who have completed the city's TreeKeepers program. The volunteers take care of trees that the city planted close to their homes, city arborist Chad Herwald said. 

"Having trained citizens out there that can keep an eye on trees that they drive by daily is very helpful," he said.

According to the city's website, the assessment team was put in place to assist the Public Works Department with the maintenance of trees and to promote civic ownership in the environment by utilizing citizens' interest in the beautification of Columbia.

On Friday, Gadbois did the typical work of an assessment team volunteer. He pruned and weeded a group of saplings along State Farm Parkway and cut down dead or unsightly ones.

He also pointed out a number of trees whose bark had been damaged by weed wackers and lawn mowers.

The damaged trees grow crooked and have imperfections Gadbois described as "scars."

He said this damage is bad for trees because it prevents them from growing and makes them more susceptible to disease.

Gadbois said volunteers use mulch to protect the trees from damage.

He said they also try to prevent damage by placing plastic sleeves around the bottom of the tree, an idea he found in a magazine.

Volunteers split 8-inch pieces of plastic drainage tubes on one side and wrap them around the bottoms of trees. Gadbois said this inexpensive method has been successful in preventing mowers from stripping the bark. Each protector costs about 50 cents.

The program's website said tree assessment volunteers also identify any of the city's trees that may have damage, replace mulch around trees and install and remove stakes on new trees.

Gadbois said he became involved in tree keeping when he noticed a number of trees on Brown School Road that were dead or neglected and considered writing a letter to the city addressing the problem.

He eventually decided giving his time was more important, so he worked with the former city arborist to start the team.

"I just saw a little problem, and I had enough gumption to take care of it," he said.

Gadbois, a retired subcontractor, said he is used to physical work.Now that he is retired, he gets bored easily.

He said working for the tree assessment team is perfect for him because he can work early in the day before it gets hot, and he gets an opportunity for some fresh air and exercise.

Gadbois said he also enjoys volunteering because the work is rewarding and relatively simple.

"I have yet to have a tree talk back to me," he said.

Because of his work with the team, Gadbois was recently named Columbia's volunteer of the month. 

Gadbois does not consider the award much of a personal honor because he is one of many skilled volunteers. However, he hopes this recognition garners more awareness of the program.

Both Gadbois and Herwald said the team is looking for more volunteers.

Herwald said he would be happy if the program could grow by 30 percent in the next year and include volunteers who naturally notice problems in trees and keep an eye out for them.

Gadbois hopes the team gains volunteers who will help him continue the legacy he created.

"When I see those trees take off, I'm going to say 'Yep, I helped,'" he said.

For more information about TreeKeepers, prospective volunteers should call the city's volunteer programs assistant, Lisa Rohmiller, at 573-874-7499 or visit the program's website.

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