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Councilor celebrates Ward 3 winning competition to plant trees

Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy (FILE)

WESTFIELD — The results are in from the first year of Greening the Gateway Cities tree plantings, and Ward 2 City Councilor Ralph J. Figy has conceded defeat, treating his colleagues to drinks and snacks from Dunkin’ Donuts and North Elm Butcher Block.

“After careful tabulation and a recount, Ward 3 has planted more trees than Ward 2,” Figy acknowledged at the Dec. 2 City Council meeting.

He and Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane have a friendly competition to see whose ward would request the most trees from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation program, which aims to plant thousands of trees in the state’s urban centers in order to reduce energy use and flooding from stormwater runoff, and to improve the quality of life, especially during the increasingly hot summers in Massachusetts. In Westfield, the program kicked off in Westfield in May, and is focused on the downtown environmental justice neighborhoods in Wards 2 and 3.

The final tally for this growing season was approximately 200 new trees planted. Ward 2 had 80 of those trees, and Ward 3 had 120, according to Figy.

“As a result of the bet between the Councilor of Ward 3 and myself, we had an agreement that whoever planted the fewest trees would have to treat the other with delicacies from their ward,” Figy continued at the meeting, saying that he had brought in Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and brownies and cookies from the North Elm Butcher Block, for all of the councilors to enjoy.

“Not only am I going to honor my bet with Councilor Matthews-Kane, I’m going to treat the whole council,” Figy said.

“Better luck next time,” said Matthews-Kane, adding, “I did have one person who planted 16 trees in her yard. That’s a forest.”

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane. (FILE)

“There are so many different benefits to trees,” Matthews-Kane said after the meeting. She listed money saved from heating and cooling, increased property values, improvement in the quality of life, and a documented reduction in crime in neighborhoods with more trees. She said trees help the environment and reduce noise pollution.

She also talked about the “heat island effect,” saying that neighborhoods with no shade are noticeably hotter.

“If you plant enough, it reduces heat,” Matthews-Kane said, adding that is why one of the goals of the program is density.

The trees are being planted by the DCR Office of Natural Resources. A lot of trees were planted along Court Street this season, where a multi-use path connecting to the trail on Western Avenue was being installed. Trees were also planted on private properties in Ward 3.

“One reason I bested Councilor Figy was because I have a few houses where people planted multiple trees. One house on Ellsworth had 16 trees, one on Hubbard had nine, one house on Franklin had eight, and both a Charles Street house and another house on Franklin Street had six apiece. Those five houses had a total of 45 trees planted, which accounted for a big chunk of my total,” Matthews-Kane said, adding that maple and tulip trees, both beautiful native species, were very popular in her ward.

Rachel Dematte of the Department of Conservation and Recreation waters a tree on Court Street. (FILE)

The program in Westfield is just beginning. In the next few years, over 2,000 trees will be planted. Matthews-Kane said people who live in the planting area who are interested in getting a tree, or several, planted in their yards, may sign up now for a visit from DCR Urban Forester Sarah Greenleaf, who is managing the program in Westfield, Chicopee and Holyoke.

“I am very pleased with the program’s first year of tree planting in Westfield,” said Greenleaf. “We received great support and feedback from residents, and we felt very welcomed by our municipal partners. We planted 208 trees in Westfield this year, and with the hopeful improvement in the COVID situation, we can increase our staffing and plant more than that next year – 300 sounds good to me! But we need to keep spreading the word and get more residents to sign up for this free tree planting program.”

To learn whether their home is eligible for a tree and to sign up, residents may visit Residents may also leave a message for a call back from the Westfield program at 617-626-1473.

Once eligibility is determined, DCR crew members will visit the site, look at sun exposure, drainage and how close it is to the street, and consider which trees would be appropriate.

Matthews-Kane said people can sign up now so they’ll be at the top of the list when the DCR crew starts doing its visits.

“I’m going to have to walk the ward next year and explain the program to folks. Come springtime, I’ll be walking,” Figy said, when asked how Ward 2 was going to beat Ward 3 next year in tree planting totals.

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