Push to get more trees for Corpus Christi

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX She said she wants Corpus Christi to be designated a Tree City, invest in an urban forester and adopt ordinances that encourage planting.

Samaniego, who sits on the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, finally realized the city doesn't necessarily need a Tree City designation -- just more trees.

She said her first goal was for Corpus Christi to plant 1 million trees by 2012.

Mayor Joe Adame said he supports the initiative, but after speaking with Michael Womack, a horticulturist and executive director of the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, he decided the city should focus on planting long-living tree species instead of focusing on such a high number of trees.

Once the goal was lowered, the initiative Twelve Thousand Trees by 2012 was born.

Samaniego, with help from other community leaders, will begin to look for residents, business owners and groups to sponsor and volunteer for the cause.

This admittedly is the hard part, she said. But she's hopeful.

Another man had that same determination in 1945 and forever changed the city's landscape.

Before the mid-1940s, the Sparkling City by the Sea lacked greenery. Many trees just didn't grow naturally here.

Then-Editor Robert M. Jackson decided the Caller-Times would buy trees in bulk and sell them in its parking lot for prices so low, people lined up around the block for the deal. One year he gave away 1,000 trees.

Jackson's tree sales brought anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 trees to the city, according to Caller-Times archives. Many of the larger trees in town are from Jackson's tree sales.

But changing the community isn't easy with limited resources and manpower. Samaniego works full time as a medical billing clerk at a women's center but said she is willing to dedicate as much time as she can to the project.

"To me it's about timing," she said. "Things happen that are meant to happen."

At the group's first meeting July 9, she and a dozen others brainstormed ideas including planting fruit trees near bus stops.

Samaniego said she is using San Antonio as a model. That city's parks and recreation department planted more than 9,000 trees in its Tree Challenge Program, which aims to increase the city's tree canopy from 38 percent to 40 percent. San Antonio would need to plant 450,000 trees to reach that goal.

San Antonio used grants and planted trees in parks and areas in all 10 City Council districts. The city has a full-time urban forester and dedicated city resources to the project. Michael Nentwich, San Antonio's urban forester, said the city's utilities companies also offer rebates of as much as $150 for the first three trees planted.

"It's going to take the whole city to get this started," Samaniego said.

Angela Gonzales, coordinator of Pride Corpus Christi and the Clean City Advisory Committee, said there's already interest in the initiative.

"This is a really wonderful program," she said. "Why wouldn't we want to be a Tree City?"

Adame said he can't wait to start digging in the ground after the weather cools.

"I think it'll gain momentum," he said. "We're planting our seeds for some shade in the future."

Beautify Corpus Christi will allow the initiative to use its phone as a hotline for people to report their newly planted trees to be counted toward the 12,000-tree goal.

Daiquiri Richard, executive director of Beautify Corpus Christi, said the group plans to donate $2,000 in trees for the effort and will operate a tree farm on city property.

Richard said she challenges people to get involved in the initiative. Those who can't maintain the trees could donate money for trees to be planted in parks. Richard's group already sponsors Tree Awareness Week in Corpus Christi in November urging residents to plant trees from November to February, the best planting season.

The group also is working to make sure people don't plant the wrong species of trees that could harm others in the area, she said.

"Our goal is to diversify our tree species," she said, but without introducing invasive species.

As much as Jackson's tree sale helped the community it also fanned the spread of the Chinese tallow tree, which is the state's second most invasive plant, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Chinese tallow tree, which was introduced to this country in the 1700s, is a threat because it crowds out other species and can alter soil conditions.

Samaniego said she hopes in time the city will be able to hire an urban forester, but for now planting and caring for trees is the community's responsibility.

"I think our city is ready," she said. "We have to really get organized."

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