The ash trees are healthy as they reach maturity, but have they become perhaps too large and/or cumbersome?

    So do Crookston’s “urban” trees lining Main and Broadway and some side-streets downtown do more good than harm? While the general consensus seems to be that they are more beneficial overall than they are detrimental, City of Crookston leaders are keeping a closer eye on the trees – mostly of the ash variety – as they reach maturity and likely their maximum size.

    While the trees planted around a quarter-century ago as part of the reconstruction of Main and Broadway and the addition of brick-paver sidewalks and retro-looking streetlights are healthy for the most part, Crookston City Council members would like to see an official plan or policy in writing going forward in regards to what happens if a downtown tree is diseased or dies, or if its trunk gets so big that it starts to significantly damage the adjacent sidewalk.

    While the drafting of such a plan or policy is not imminent, council members agree they want to keep a closer eye on the trees going forward. For instance, council members Steve Erickson and Jake Fee, along with an expert on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a while back walked the downtown area to take note of areas where trunks on some of the largest ash trees were doing the most damage to their surrounding grates and adjacent brick pavers, and, also, to see how compliant or non-compliant the City is when it comes to ADA space requirements on the Main and Broadway sidewalks. (In addition, Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle is a certified tree specialist, and he monitors the health and overall condition of the downtown trees.)

    “Ninety percent of the problem was grates around trees pushing up the cement,” Erickson said. “Some we are going to have to address for sure. That’s the biggest hazard.” He added that in a one-block radius downtown, around 90 percent of the grates were pushing up the concrete a minimum of two inches. “There are tripping hazards that need to be addressed,” Erickson added.

    Public Works crews over the past couple of summers have cut some of the grates being squeezed most by large tree trunks in order to make ease the crowding.

    There have been complaints about the trees, City Administrator Shannon Stassen says. In addition to tripping hazards caused by raised grates and brick pavers, he said some business owners have complained about the trees blocking their stores’ signs. The most notable example was on Second Street, where a tree was partially blocking the marquee at the Grand Theatre. Despite Public Works crews trimming and shaping the trees, he said there have been requests to remove certain trees. To date, Stassen said, it’s been the City’s practice to not remove healthy downtown trees. The biggest overall threat, he added, since the vast majority of the trees are ash, is the emerald ash borer, which has not made its way this far north as of yet.

    While the trees, in addition to the hanging flower baskets downtown, get a lot of compliments from visitors to Crookston in the summer, Stassen and Riopelle say the trees’ benefits go beyond aesthetics and beautification.

    “They exist for functional reasons as well,” Stassen said. “They are definitely there for a reason.”

    For instance, he and Riopelle noted, the downtown trees help to reduce harmful emissions, they reduce the downtown temperature in the summer and serve as a wind buffer. They also increase property values and help to purify water running off in the streets that might have salt or other chemicals in it. The trees help block the sun’s harmful UV rays. They can even improve a person’s mental health or booth their overall well-being, Riopelle noted.

    While Stassen said that “all the good research” makes a case for replacing downtown trees that are removed because of health issues or some other reason, Riopelle noted that complicating matters is the likelihood that replacement trees couldn’t be planted in the same hole. “You grind down the stump and you’re only down around a foot,” he said. “You would need new holes cut.”

    Erickson said those issues all need to be part of an actual downtown tree plan for the future. “We need to know who’s going to take care of these situations, and what we’re going to do in certain situations,” he said.