Arbor Day brings needed trim to Pastorius Park’s oldest trees

by Francesca Chapman
Posted 5/4/23

Not everyone appreciates the roar of chainsaws outside their window first thing in the morning, but it was music to the ears of Pastorius Park neighbor Kava Franklin.

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Arbor Day brings needed trim to Pastorius Park’s oldest trees


Not everyone appreciates the roar of chainsaws outside their window first thing in the morning, but it was music to the ears of Pastorius Park neighbor Kava Franklin.

“I’ve lived here for 20 years and have never seen anything like this going on,” said a delighted Franklin, as the sawdust flew. All around, teams from four local commercial arborists were working above, in and underneath some of the park’s oldest trees.

“The last three years, the rejuvenation of this park has been incredible,” Franklin said. Pastorius Park “is a gem for Philadelphia, and this will help preserve it for future generations.”

The work crews donated their efforts on April 28 – Arbor Day – to prune 10 or so of the oldest, or “legacy,” trees along the park’s Millman Street and northwestern borders. Many trees there are 80 to 100 years old, and some tulip, oak, pine and sweetgum trees were in dire need of a trim after years of deferred maintenance, said Paul Meyer, retired executive director of the Morris Arboretum and an organizer of the event. 

Tree work in Pastorius Park is officially the responsibility of Fairmount Park and the city’s office of Parks & Recreation, and their arborists removed some dead trees there earlier this year. But since “Fairmount Park is so stretched for resources,” Meyer said, he recruited volunteers from Schectman Tree Care, McFarland Tree Services, John B. Ward & Co. and Hedgerows Tree Service to do the most urgent pruning. 

The same four tree crews did gratis work at the park last year, in what organizers hope will become an Arbor Day tradition. The value of the work done could be as high as $10,000, Meyer estimated. 

“Caring for big, old trees is highly technical, and it requires trained professionals who operate with very high safety standards,” he said. 

Erik Werner, managing the Hedgerows crew, said the arborists readily agreed to volunteer their efforts. “I wouldn’t miss out on being here because of the long history I have with these trees, which goes back decades,” he said. As Werner spoke, he kept a close eye on a helmeted colleague who was aloft in a sweetgum, perched on one branch while sawing off another. 

Noted Meyer: “Those kinds of trees in a public setting really need regular care to remove dead wood and trim long branches.” Since many of them shade the seating area for summer concerts and events like last week’s Parks on Tap, falling branches “literally can be lethal.”

Removing dead limbs and pruning back long branches also lessens the load on brittle older trees, and lets in sunlight for smaller trees, plants and people, Meyer said. One additional bonus: many of the limbs cut down last week were immediately ground up on site, the wood chips left behind for volunteers to spread for ground cover and to define planting beds around the park.

Tracy Gardner, president of the Friends of Pastorius Park, said the arborists’ “generosity has made it possible for our Friends group to get a handle on” ongoing projects at the park. “It’s really gratifying to see that the whole community is into it.”

The work is part of an ongoing restoration project at the park outlined by Meyer and realized largely through volunteer work and donations. The project calls for planting new trees throughout the park in addition to tending legacy trees in their declining years.

“We’re fortunate to live in a community with a lot of mature trees,” Meyer said of Chestnut Hill. “But it’s important not to be complacent – we also have to think about planting trees that will be here for us 60 to 75 years from now.”

Gardner said trees recently planted or planned for the park are largely flowering species, which provide the most benefit to wildlife and ensure colorful foliage throughout the year.

“There’s a dynamism to the park now,” she said. “The Yoshino cherries bloomed four or five weeks ago. When they faded off, the magnolias came up. Part of the pleasure of being here is being here for all four seasons and seeing something happen.”

James McNabb, a Chestnut Hill sculptor who also works with the Friends of Pastorius Park, agreed that healthy and well-tended trees are key to the park’s beauty and purpose. 

“Particularly as a woodworker, my fascination for trees has grown over the years,” he said. “I’ve come to love the trees in this neighborhood, and this park in particular. I don’t have much of a backyard, so I’m happy to think of Pastorius Park as my backyard.”