Camden would not be a very nice-looking town without trees, and we seem to be forgetting that the trees we have now are no accident. Joyce Kilmer famously wrote, “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.” That may be true, but only we can plant them, and it’s our moral duty to the next generation to do it.

In 1950, John Montgomery started counting the number of shade trees taken down in Camden and Rockport over the previous five years and concluded that the number taken down grossly exceeded new plantings. He got to work with the Chamber of Commerce and started a tree planting committee. The goal in 1950 was 100 trees between the two towns. Today, Camden is embarking on a similar effort, for many of the same reasons noted by Mr. Montgomery:

“Shade trees are the principal beauty of Camden and Rockport, and unless we make a decided effort right now, the next generation will be living in ugly towns. Those coming after us are entitled to the same beautiful tress another generation gave us.”

Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

Sometimes towns just get so used to having trees that they become spoiled and forget to plant more. That’s part of our problem, but there are also some anti-tree people to contend with. I tell you this not to gripe about these people (many of whom I like a lot), but to remind ourselves that the trees aren’t going to plant themselves or speak up against the naysayers. That’s up to us.

I’ve had some old time Camden people give me a really hard time for the Town’s efforts to plant street trees in the downtown. They can be so mean that once in a while I start to doubt my instincts, especially when it is perceived that a tree might displace a parking space or block a view of the harbor for part of the year.

Camden’s voter-approved Downtown Master Plan has trees all over the place, but whenever opportunities have arisen in the past, fear of even a small change to the sidewalk seems to grab hold.

What these people forget is that it’s really not street trees but the lack of them that is the change for Camden. For some reason, a small and loud section of the population seems to think we got everything perfect in Camden somewhere around 1975 and that any tree planted or change proposed after that is the result of “transplants” like my parents who moved here shortly after.

For the past 50 to75 years, we have been losing more trees than we are planting. Even famous landscape architects like the Olmsted Brothers tried to plant trees on the public landing, but Main Street business owners objected and successfully lobbied for more parking spots and fewer trees. In the immediate downtown, shade trees have slowly disappeared from our sidewalks, but don’t let anyone tell you that this is the Camden way.

Tree lined Elm Street in 1931. Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

Organized street tree replenishment is a Camden tradition dating back to at least the mid-1800s. In 1890, an editorial in the Camden Herald urged residents to take the State’s Arbor Day declaration seriously:

“How small an outlay of time and expense it was for our fathers or grandfathers to plant the beautiful elms, maples, and chestnuts that now adorn Elm High and Chestnut streets, and throw their grateful shade as a benefaction over all who have occasional to walk or ride on those streets in the heat of summer… There is less of selfishness in planting of a tree than in any other investment. When one plants a tree by the roadside it is not simply his who plants it, but is transmitted into a general and lasting good, that like the dew of Hermon shall descend in blessing forevermore.”

In 1768, when the settlers began to arrive, one of the conditions to eventually owning your own plot of land, was the clearing of six acres. By the mid-1800s they had taken the wild untamed forests to “the other extreme” according to Camden Herald editors. A concerted effort was made to beautify the streets by planting Elm trees everywhere. It must have been pretty terrible to get all those residents who had just finished cutting down all the trees in the town to set to work digging them up in the woods and planting them along the street. Old photos show the whole town was barren for a bit, but by 1890, the canopy on some streets was mature enough to be praiseworthy.

Design showing the Olmsted vision for the public landing with significantly more trees. Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

The Camden Herald Archives are dotted with references to the immense value of shade trees and resident efforts to provide the next generation with their priceless gifts of cleaner air, shade in the summer, erosion control, and increased property values. Past generations knew that Camden needs trees, and it’s our turn to plant them.

Camden will plant at least 50 new street trees this season and residents are invited to get on the list. We have a group of volunteers from the Conservation Commission entering locations into a GIS database and if you think your property would be a good location, contact Beedy Parker at 236-8732 or email beedyparker@gwi.net or you can email me amckellar@camdenmaine.gov.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board member. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.

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