November 18, 2022 Baltimore County

Baltimore County continues to expand its urban tree canopy with the planting of 140 trees as part of a collaborative “Witness Tree” public art project in the Lyon Homes neighborhood of Turner Station.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski joined Turner Station community members and project partners this morning to dedicate this $250,000 urban reforestation project that integrates public art to transform an underutilized common area in the Lyon Homes community. This new “Heritage Grove” is a welcoming tree-lined path with storyboards and benches that reflect the character of this historic African-American community.

The project completes the first phase of “Witness Trees,” a community-designed environmental action initiative to enhance climate change resiliency in a way that beautifies and enhances the community. A witness tree project is a tree planting and public art assemblage that brings environmental benefits while reflecting an area’s heritage and community self-expression.

As the planting partner in this project, Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS) invested $95,000 to plant a variety of 140 native understory and canopy trees through a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant that is part of the statewide 5 Million Trees for Maryland initiative.

“We celebrate Turner Station as one of our most historic communities and look forward to the space being created, which will feature 140 new trees along with original, local storyboards reflecting the character of the neighborhood, as a destination for people to reflect and interact with nature for years to come,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. “I thank all of our partners for their collaboration on this project and look forward to continuing our work on a variety of other initiatives in the Turner Station community moving forward."

“The trees we plant here will do what they do best – combat climate change, add beauty, clean the air, cool streets and homes and hopefully stand for generations to come,” said Turner Station Conservation Teams Vice-President Michael Thompson. “These trees will help preserve our environmental and public health as well as our rich history. With public art and signage created from residents’ storytelling sessions that will educate and inspire people, the trees will stand as witnesses to maintain our legacy.”

Broad-based Community-Driven Vision

The Witness Trees project is a multi-year effort to increase Turner Station’s climate resiliency and highlight the area’s rich heritage. Future phases are designed to support the empowerment of Turner Station Conservation Teams in terms of leadership development and strategic planning.

Project partners include Turner Station Conservation Teams, The Nature Conservancy, Union Baptist Church of Turner Station, Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition, The CT Group, and Lyon Homes/Henrietta Lacks Village. Funders include Hoffberger Family Philanthropies, Chesapeake Bay Trust, France-Merrick Foundation, CSU Salazar Center for North American Conservation, Commission for Environmental Cooperation and Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

“For The Nature Conservancy, the Witness Trees Project reflects our commitment to fostering and enabling equitable access to nature and its benefits,” says Isaac Hametz, Baltimore program director for TNC in Maryland and DC. “Across the globe and here in Baltimore, Black, indigenous, and people of color have been systematically excluded and othered in the environmental movement. TNC’s multi-year commitment to Turner Station is intended to address this systemic injustice locally – by supporting the Turner Station Conservation Teams with the necessary technical resources, funding, and access it needs to continue to advocate for their interests with their voice.”

Strong Progress on Tree Canopy Goals

In the past four years, Baltimore County DEPS has planted tens of thousands of trees in both rural and more populated areas. Last year, Olszewski launched Operation ReTree Baltimore County, a hyper-local tree equity program designed to expand the tree canopy in the urban communities most in need of greening. This year, DEPS created two new Forestry Management divisions focused on urban forestry and tree maintenance. The County’s plan is to plant 1,000 new trees in underserved neighborhoods next spring and fall, plus an additional 1,000 street trees in 2023. Between these two programs, the County will plant more street trees in one year than the past eight years combined.

Since 2000, Baltimore County has reforested more than 1,000 acres in support of the County’s requirements under the Forest Conservation Act, tree canopy goals and municipal stormwater permit. For the past 19 years, Baltimore County has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with the US Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

The County's goal is to achieve and maintain a 50 percent tree canopy Countywide and within the three drinking water reservoirs by the year 2025. Additionally, the County is striving to achieve and maintain 40 percent tree coverage within the more populated areas inside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) and for each of the Census Designated Places (CDPs).