Dave King joked that Fredericksburg’s trees could be divided into three categories when he was hired as the city’s assistant public works director in 1998.
There were small Bradford pears, medium Bradford pears and large Bradford pears.
“Everywhere you went, there was a Bradford pear tree,” King, who now heads the city’s public works department, told those attending the city’s annual Arbor Day celebration Wednesday at historic Kenmore. “I thought we needed to do something about the diversity of the city’s trees.”
Today, thanks in part to his efforts, Fredericksburg is a Tree City USA award winner and a model for other localities.
The City of Fredericksburg and the Fredericksburg Area Council of Garden Clubs honored King and the late Mike Witt, owner of A Cut Above Landscape and Tree Care, with proclamations read by Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and the ceremonial landscaping of a red oak and an elm on the Washington Avenue mall during the event. Tom Snoddy with the Virginia Department of Forestry also gave King a banner designating Fredericksburg as Tree City USA for 33 years.
King said that he began working with the City Council and community leaders on Fredericksburg’s urban treescape two years after Hurricane Isabel wiped out more than 1,000 trees in 2003. Victims included many of those Bradford pears, ornamental trees known for their white blossoms and weak branch structure.
“It really cleaned house for us,” he said. “I was devastated by the loss of so many trees.”
King helped put together a street tree committee that did an inventory of the trees that were left, identified gaps and set priorities for new plantings. Fredericksburg didn’t have a budget for trees at first, so he and his staff created a nursery at the wastewater treatment plant to raise a variety of tree seedlings.
Today, the city’s budget includes funding for new trees and tree maintenance, and the Fredericksburg Area Council of Garden Clubs and organizations such as Tree Fredericksburg have pitched in to help with landscaping and tree plantings.
Tree Fredericksburg volunteers alone have planted, pruned and watered more than 7,048 trees over the past 10 years, said Anne Little, who co-founded the nonprofit with her husband Carl. These included 110 trees planted at James Monroe High School last year with the help of grants from the state and Dominion Power. Tree Fredericksburg also prumed more than 1,300 trees that year with the help of “super pruner” Steve Rossi.
“It is truly a community effort to restore our urban forest,” said King. “None of this could have been done by me alone.”
He said other localities around the state and elsewhere have contacted him to find out how the city has accomplished so much.
“We really have become a model community for the way we have our urban forest throughout the city,” King said. “No one group can do this alone. I think that’s where some other communities struggle. They may have one group or another trying to do it all, but they really can’t. We all have to come together.”
Another person that helped in those efforts locally was Witt, a Marine veteran who owned a local landscaping and tree business. He had a long client list that included the city of Fredericksburg, and could be seen each Christmas season decking downtown in lights.
“He was a hard worker who sometimes worked seven days a week at his job, but still found time to donate his services to cemeteries, churches and even answering late-night calls for help from local residents,” according to the proclamation the mayor read.
A fall from a bucket truck in 2015 left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he struggled to deal with resulting health and financial problems. He did have the support of his two daughters and friends, and many described him as “the most giving person they had ever met and was always thinking about everyone else because he did not want to be a burden or inconvenience anyone,” Greenlaw said.
Witt died Oct. 15 at Hunter Holmes McGuire Medical Center in Richmond.
Ann Black, who helped manage Witt’s finances, received the proclamation, and Bob Chapman, one of his Marine Corps friends, helped Greenlaw shovel mulch are the elm planted in his memory. Both said Witt would have been embarrassed by the attention, but proud that his accomplishments had been honored.