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Nothing lovely as more trees

In three years, volunteers in Delaware County have planted 1,300 to stem a slow but decided decline.

And then they rested - Dylan Baker (left) and his father, John, are volunteers in the TreeVitalize program.
And then they rested - Dylan Baker (left) and his father, John, are volunteers in the TreeVitalize program.Read moreED MAHON

Dylan Baker's jacket, a mix of red, yellow and orange with an imprint of a tree, matched the leaves covering the ground and a few still hanging onto branches in late November. Baker dumped a handful of grass seed near one of the 90 or so trees he helped plant a few weeks earlier, then looked at a group of boys swinging from a vine attached to a 30-foot tree.

"That's what the project's all about," said Baker, glad to see people using the space. To become an Eagle Scout, he coordinated 40 volunteers who cleared the space, dug two-foot holes and planted white oaks, red maples and various shrubs along Ridley Creek in Brookhaven.

"It's really for the community. And it's cool to see how fast the turnaround is, how fast the mind-set of it changes," he said.

Baker, a 17-year-old senior at Penncrest High School in Middletown, is one of hundreds of volunteers who have teamed with Anne Murphy, executive director of the Chester-Ridley-Crum Watersheds Association, to plant 1,300 trees in Delaware County over the last three years.

Baker has cerebral palsy, but that doesn't come close to defining him, said Lou Finsterbusch, scout leader for Boy Scout Troop 85 in Middletown.

"Dylan is a leader," said Finsterbusch, 53. "No one has ever looked at Dylan as being handicapped. He carries his own weight with the troop."

Other Boy Scouts are considering organizing similar projects next year, Finsterbusch added.

Murphy has depended on that type of local leadership from community organizations, businesses and government officials. They planted 500 trees at six Delaware County locations this year.

Aside from Baker's site at Meadowbrook Lane in Brookhaven, there were two sites in Rose Valley Borough, and one each in Ridley Park Borough, in Taylor Memorial Arboretum and in Ridley Creek State Park.

The efforts began in March 2003, when a study estimated that the five-county Philadelphia region lost 8 percent of its heavy tree cover over 15 years. Since then, through the TreeVitalize program, 5,800 volunteers have helped plant 16,000 trees in the five counties.

"What's important about all the partnerships is that if you just plant the trees and you walk away, most of them will die," Murphy said. That was especially true this October, when light rainfall required a steady stream of volunteers to revisit the sites for watering.

Murphy and other supporters list the many benefits of trees: They absorb carbon dioxide, help the food chain because they provide grub for macroinvertebrates, and reduce storm-water runoff. Plus, trees are better scenery than what was there before.

"When you looked at it initially, it almost looked like a hopeless cause," Murphy said, while standing at the Ridley Creek State Park site where the tree trunks are wrapped with green tubes to protect them from deer. "This looked like the moon."

To prove the point, she walked about a minute downstream to a site that will be done next year. The Japanese knotweed and other brown, dead invasive plants were stacked up higher than her body and covered the path.

Members of Delco-Manning Trout Unlimited Chapter 320 helped rip about 300 pounds of fast-growing weeds off the trees in July.

When Baker's group cleaned up the Brookhaven site, members found not just brush and brambles, but also garbage.

"It looked like a trash pile, and that's why people were dumping their trash here," Baker said.

Despite hair past his shoulders and some thick facial hair, Baker isn't a total into-the-wild-type outdoorsman. He runs a computer-repair business and plans to major in accounting in college, and some of his camping ventures have included treks to the Philadelphia Folk Festival with his family.

But sleeping in a tent in Lancaster County, the Delaware Water Gap and Connecticut have made an impact.

"Rejuvenating the ecosystem and getting everything back in nature's order is kind of something that was really appealing to me as a project," said Baker, who passed on the chance to set up park benches.

"I'm a very small part of a big picture," he said as he grabbed more grass seed, "but any little bit of difference."

The trees will take about three years until they have strong enough roots to withstand drought. In the meantime, Baker and others will keep checking on the sites. The grass should stop other invasive plants from overtaking the area.

An hour and a half and a bag of seed grass after they had arrived at the site in late November, Baker and his father, John, joked about who was working harder, and talked about Bob Dylan, hockey and that vine those kids were swinging on.

Turns out the stray swing will have to go, though.

"The idea is to try and keep that vine from starting back up, because once it comes back, oh, my God, it's - " the 47-year-old father said, momentarily at loss for words. "Look at the thickness of it. It's unbelievable."

For More Information

To learn more about the Chester-Ridley-Crum Watersheds Association, visit


, call 610-892-8731 or e-mail



For more details on the TreeVitalize program, visit