Though he had been expecting to lose the Minnehaha Avenue ashes, it did not lessen the shock of it for Rich Trout. The St. Paul resident told himself he wouldn't watch, but he went to the window anyway when he heard the crack of his tree coming down.
Even more discouraging for Trout and his neighbors was how long it would take the city, which has been grappling with the invasive emerald ash borer for more than a decade, to replace the 100 boulevard trees. St. Paul's current replanting schedule would mean waiting until 2023.
"One thing we love about the neighborhood is it's so walkable, but that's kind of made it a bit harsher being out there," Trout said of the ash tree removals. "It's hotter, there isn't the shade, there isn't the buffer of sound, it feels like people drive faster because it's more open."
To get a jump-start on building back the tree canopy, a group of Hamline-Midway neighbors, churchgoers and business owners have formed Replant Minnehaha Trees, a fundraising effort to replant trees along the Minnehaha Avenue corridor.
Losing beloved ash trees has become a common experience for people in St. Paul, where emerald ash borer was discovered in 2009. Since then, the parks department has cut down nearly 19,000 ashes, according to the city's forestry team.
After the removals this spring, the once-shady Minnehaha Avenue and nearby blocks of Asbury Avenue and Simpson Street are now barren, with seemingly more stumps than surviving trees.
The trees on the main thoroughfare provided shade and beauty for Miriam Friesen's commute, and she said the atmosphere has not been the same since they were cut down.
"It's a pretty significant change to the neighborhood," Friesen said.
Community members decided to take on the task of planting young trees back in the spring, days after the city removed the ashes. They were planting a tree on the property of Hamline Church United Methodist, and wondered: If they could plant one tree, why couldn't they plant more?
Since the formation of Replant Minnehaha Trees, the group has raised money, hosted events and door-knocked each home on affected blocks at least five times to encourage residents to sign the permits needed to replant trees, said organizer Trudy Dunham. At times, she said, it's been depressing thinking about the thousands of dollars needed to make the project work.
"But every time something a little depressing happened, something wonderful would follow and happen," Dunham said.
The group hit its $16,000 fundraising goal Friday. On Thursday, Hamline Church United Methodist volunteers cooked hand pies at the community brick oven for attendees dressed in green to represent the environment, and a woman dressed as an emerald ash borer regaled children with tales of the neighborhood trees that have become her dinner.
It will cost $250 to grind each tree stump. Group members say they hope to pay for new trees with a grant from Tree Trust, a Twin Cities nonprofit that works to grow the urban forest.
The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department supports the effort to get trees into the ground more quickly, according to spokeswoman Clare Cloyd. The city forestry team is working with Replant Minnehaha Trees on the permitting process for their planting request, she said.
The St. Paul Fire Department will help with watering, as one of the requirements of Tree Trust grants is a watering plan, Friesen said.
The next step is collecting permits from each homeowner to deliver to the city. After that, a contractor can grind stumps and trees can be planted with the help of a team of volunteers. Planting is planned for late September or early October.
Minnehaha Avenue is a busy thoroughfare that draws people from elsewhere, so Replant Minnehaha Trees is not relying on financial contributions from homeowners whose boulevard trees will be replaced — instead, they've invited the broader neighborhood and business community to contribute.
"We wanted it to be available to all of the homeowners that were affected and not have the burden of replanting fall on their shoulders," Friesen said, "since the trees on Minnehaha are really a community resource."
Zoë Jackson is a reporter covering St. Paul and its neighborhoods for the Star Tribune. She previously covered young voters on the politics team, supported by Report for America and the Minneapolis Foundation. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack