City of Aspen celebrates Arbor Day with tree giveaway |

City of Aspen celebrates Arbor Day with tree giveaway

Ben Carlsen, the city's open space and natural resource manager, stands in front of a large, mature tree that has been preserved on a lot in the West End.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

On this Arbor Day, city of Aspen foresters are celebrating trees while at the same time trying to protect the urban inventory from development.

As neighborhoods like the West End see homes torn down and redeveloped, often the trees go with them. Many of them are mature and therefore valuable to the overall inventory.

“That canopy is so important,” said Ben Carlsen, the city’s open space and natural resource manager.

He added that the goal is to have 30 percent of the city covered with trees from an aerial view. Right now, it’s at 26 percent.

Carlsen and Ian Gray, the city’s forester, said they are concerned that development may be driving that number down. That’s why they are collecting data on how many existing trees get cut down directly because they are in the way of progress.

“Both Ben and I have a sneaking suspicion we are going backwards,” Gray said. “It’s a tough balance … (but) we are blessed with a strong tree ordinance in the city of Aspen.”

Property owners have to apply for permits to remove trees and are required to either replace them or pay in mitigation fees.

Carlsen said about half choose to pay and the other half plant new trees.

Since the city’s overall canopy is middle-aged to old, having newer, smaller trees provides diversity and resilience, he added.

If the city forestry department decides that a development can occur without cutting trees down, they’ll deny a tree-removal request.

But now that property owners are building lot line to lot line, which requires more excavation, it’s not that simple anymore.

“It’s tough because you can’t say no to everything,” Gray said.

On a recent tour, Carlsen and Gray pointed to the block between Hallam and Bleeker streets, in between Monarch and Aspen streets, where five houses are either being torn down or rebuilt. Dozens of trees have been lost as a result.

“It makes it a challenge,” Gray said.

But there are examples of preservation throughout town, as well. Carlsen and Gray pointed to old trees on a property that was redeveloped on Smuggler Street. The property owner and real estate agents worked with the city to make sure the trees were not disturbed during the building process.

And with commercial development, the city encourages new trees to be planted using what is known as “Silva Cells” — a below-grade rooting system that uses soil volumes to support growth.

“This is a great example of urban forestry,” Gray said, pointing to such a system at Rubey Park Transit Center. “We are increasingly recommending it.”

There are between 40 and 50 species in the city’s inventory, which is mostly made up of spruce and cottonwoods. The city manages more than 10,000 trees, which includes at the golf course.

To celebrate its trees, Aspen City Council signed off on a proclamation earlier this week dedicating today as Arbor Day. The city is celebrating with a community event from 10 a.m. to noon today in Paepcke Park. There will be free tree giveaways, refreshments, games for kids, bucket rides in the city’s tree trimmer and vendor displays.

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