By Bob Uphues
Trees have always been an integral part of Riverside. Its motto, after all, is "Village in the Forest."
But later this year, the entire village likely will be designated an arboretum on the Morton Register of Arboreta. Riverside would be just the second municipality in Illinois so designated — Oak Park was awarded its arboretum designation in April. Brookfield Zoo is also a registered arboretum.
"From a village perspective it's always great when you can raise public awareness regarding our trees," said Riverside Forester Michael Collins.
The push to have the village designated as an arboretum is being led, with the blessing of the Riverside Village Board, by Riverside resident Cathy Maloney, an outgoing member of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission who is also a horticultural historian.
After a 22-year career in the corporate world, Maloney and her husband moved to Riverside, which made a dramatic impact on her life.
"When we moved into Riverside, it became abundantly apparent that someone had thought about this [village's plan]," Maloney said.
Living in a portion of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Coonley Estate heightened that awareness and led to Maloney writing about it in her 2010 book The Gardener's Cottage in Riverside.
Maloney, who previously did public relations work for Morton Arboretum, said she started thinking about the arboretum designation for Riverside last fall.
"I'd come home each day to Riverside and say to myself, 'This is truly an arboretum,'" Maloney recalled. "It's always been percolating in the back of my mind. When the opportunity for certification came about, I thought Riverside would be an excellent candidate for it."
Maloney said receiving an arboretum designation would enhance the stewardship residents of the village already feel toward the green spaces and trees in Riverside. It will also provide better educational opportunities and potentially could enhance tourism.
Riverside will be applying for what is known as a Level II arboretum. In order to qualify for Level II designation (Oak Park and the Brookfield Zoo hold the same designation), Riverside must have more than 100 species of trees, a paid forestry staffer, public events that draw people to the area, educational programming and a collections policy.
Maloney, who along with Collins is putting together the application on behalf of Riverside, has been aided by the fact that Riverside has already mapped out every tree on public lands (not counting forest areas near the river). A link to the map can be found on the Riverside village website (www.riverside.il.us).
The map shows the exact location of every tree, and clicking on each dot displays the species name, its Latin name and its diameter.
Part of Riverside's application includes a project focusing on Guthrie Park in downtown Riverside that Maloney and other volunteers are undertaking.
While trees in Riverside are inventoried on the interactive digital map, Guthrie Park's trees are receiving more attention. When the project is complete, the park's trees in the digital database will not only be mapped and named but also accompanied by photos of each tree, showing them in spring, summer, and fall.
In addition, there will be ecological information about each tree, such as its mature height and the amount of ground water and carbon dioxide the tree absorbs. Finally, each tree in Guthrie Park will be physically "tagged" with its species and Latin names.
Small tags will be affixed to the tree base to help visitors identify them. Maloney and Collins are hoping to include the Guthrie Park project in a curriculum that Riverside elementary school teachers can bring into their classrooms.
"You can walk through Guthrie Park and look at historic trees, including pre-settlement trees and stroll along the river," said Collins. "It's something most villages don't have to offer."
Helping Maloney take the photos, research the ecological impacts and obtain the tags are Cindy Kellogg, Mary Geroch and fellow outgoing LAC member Bob Finn.
Maloney said she has sent a preliminary application to Collins and Public Works Director Edward Bailey and hopes to have a village board-approved, completed application to send to the folks at Morton Arboretum by the end of July.
The village could know whether Riverside will be designated an arboretum prior to the end of summer.
"I'm really hopeful," Maloney said.