ELWOOD – Ash trees that offered shade and arboreal appeal to the Memorial Walk at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood have died from infestation by the emerald ash borer.
On Wednesday, many of those trees came down and were replaced – one of the jobs done by 35 volunteers who joined the first national Saluting Branches day of service.
Arborists and horticulturalists contributed their efforts, skills and machinery across the country to improve the appearance at 27 of the national cemeteries where veterans are buried.
“I’m a certified arborist and an American,” Jeff Marrs with Stump’s Tree Care said when asked what brought him Wednesday to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. “I have quite a few friends who are buried here and at national cemeteries around the country.”
Marrs said there was a lot of need when it came to tree service at the Elwood cemetery, which he described as being “chiseled out of the forest.”
“It’s nice for them to get this much work done all at once and have budgeted money they can spend on other stuff,” Marrs said. “There’s an endless amount of trees here to cut and trim.”
Cemetery Director Sean Baumgartner said plans were being made to remove the ash trees when the Saluting Branches volunteers offered their services.
“The emerald ash borer has just devoured a number of our ash trees over the years,” said Baumgartner, who called the volunteer effort “a wonderful thing.”
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery almost did not make the list of cemeteries receiving the volunteer effort in the first year of Saluting Branches.
The day of service was organized by Rainbow Treecare, a tree service company in Minnetonka, Minnesota, that grasped the need for arborist volunteerism at national cemeteries after doing such an event three years ago at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Mark Nega, territory manager for Rainbow’s Chicago office, said he was helping organize Saluting Branches for Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield when it became evident Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery should be added.
“This has come together in two months,” Nega said of the local effort.
Across the country, planning has been in the works for three years, and more than 1,100 volunteers participated.
The volunteer work at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was organized by Jim Teiber, city arborist for Joliet.
Teiber said interest in participating was so strong at one point he worried he might have more people than he could manage.
He said he also was surprised and motivated by the gratitude he received when the public heard about the volunteer effort.
“A lot of thanks, especially from veterans and from people who have people who are buried here,” Teiber said. “It gives you goosebumps and makes you want to work hard.”
Among those at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was Beth Corrigan, a specialist with the Community Trees Program at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
Corrigan said it is important to remove dead ash trees – not only for aesthetics but for safety.
“They are very dry and brittle,” Corrigan said. “A lot of trees will stand dead for a long time. Ash trees are not one of them.”
SALUTING BRANCHES CONTRIBUTORS
• Companies providing people and equipment: The Care of Trees, Naperville; Homer Tree Service, Lockport; Northwestern Tree Service, Schaumburg; Rainbow Treecare, Chicago office; Stump’s Tree Care, Joliet; Vermeer Midwest, Aurora.
• Nurseries providing trees: The Fields of Caton Farm, Crest Hill; Green Glen, Joliet; Kendall Hill, Newark; Spring Grove, Mazon.