foresters Bull Durham, Jim Flynn and Justin Whipple plant trees in the spring and fall and trim them during the summer. They're also the guys responsible for collecting leaves, removing snow and clearing roads of debris after tornadoes and other severe weather.
With a combined 85 years of city experience, they keep things running smoothly—and safely—for residents, drivers and pedestrians.
The numbers are daunting: foresters manage roughly 8,500 city trees. They plant roughly 150 yearly and remove between 100 and 120, whether because of poor health or another reason. Ideally, they say, the number of trees planted is greater than those removed.
Other responsibilities include landscaping and planting bulbs in the fall so flowers bloom in the spring.
Durham and Flynn both graduated from the University of Missouri, Whipple from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Durham has been with longest at 41 years. Flynn has worked in for 38 and Whipple for six.
They get plenty of questions from residents as they work day-to-day, the most common being "When are you coming to my house" and "Are you cutting down all the trees on this block?"
The three understand where residents are coming from. At the same time, as foresters they have to plant, trim and remove trees based on how they fit into the overall landscape.
"We're looking at the whole community forest," Whipple said.
The foresters are well aware of a from discussion by the Clayton Board of Aldermen, Flynn said.
"It's not like we were caught off guard," he said. That's because for years the foresters have been trying to preserve tree-cover in the city.
Pin oaks are the most common tree variety, though this species isn't at the top of foresters' favorites list any more. The foresters try to plant a variety of types to avoid "standing dominoes," Flynn said—in other words, the death of a whole stand of identical trees plagued by a common disease or bug.
In general, the three get their work orders at about 7:15 each morning. Then they prepare their equipment and head out the door for their work site, whether a park or a residential neighborhood. The post signs telling people to not park in the area. In the afternoon, they identify a work site for the next day.
The foresters aim to visit each subdivision once every five years to trim trees. Gary Scheipeter, the city's superintendent of public works, helps develop the schedule. Tree-trimming schedules are publicized in advance on the city's website.
The three have had many memorable experiences during their time with the city.
Flynn recalls how he had to get emergency medical help after the chainsaw he was using slipped out of a stump and cut into his leg beneath the kneecap. The first doctor to see him left the room and returned with a second, then a third.
"You had something worth looking at," Whipple jokes.
Other memories include getting enormous trees to fall where needed—as well as some near misses.
Durham is proud of his team's work in the 8100 block of Maryland Avenue. At one point, they cut down all of the sycamores there and replaced them with Bradford pear trees. More recently, they replaced the Bradford trees with elms. Similarly, they recently replaced ash trees with Crimson Spire Oaks on Central Avenue.
The foresters smile often. They're proud of their work, which anyone who visits they city can see and enjoy.
"You transform that whole block," Whipple said.
Residents always are happy after the foresters visit to trim trees or address a concern, they said.
They also have recommendations for tree-owners. First, don't mow too close to trees to avoid cutting into roots. Second, water trees regularly to keep them healthy. And third, mulch out at the base of trees instead of up. This keeps the root system growing down into the soil instead of up into the mulch.
Taking those precautions can prevent damage and avert disappointment when a tree takes a turn for the worse down the road. Often, injuries to a tree don't show up for years.
"It's cause and effect, but it's not fast-break basketball," Flynn said.
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