By Michael Purdie

 The City of College Park’s Committee for a Better Environment (CBE) launched an initiative late last fall to label native tree species along the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail. During December, a total of 20 markers were placed as the initial phase of the project, according to Alexa Bely, who proposed the initiative about a year ago. Ten species of indigenous trees have been labeled, with a specimen of each species labeled on both sides of Paint Branch. The CBE aims to label an additional 10 species next spring. 

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New placards along the trolly trail help visitors identify trees.
Photo Credit: Taneen Momeni

“I recognized that I have both an appreciation for the natural world, but I also have a lot of friends and contacts that I learn from, so although I’m not an expert in tree identification, I do have contacts that have that expert knowledge,” said Bely, a professor in the department of biology at the University of Maryland. “I’ve been able to learn a fair bit over the last couple of years about the local tree species and realized how much I was appreciating that knowledge and thought that many of our residents would appreciate being able to identify trees along the trolley trail as well.”

The trail, which connects College Park to Hyattsville and Riverdale, is a 3.8-mile path along Rhode Island Avenue that boasts a wide variety of native trees — more than 25 species — including red oaks, serviceberries, black walnuts and silver maples, according to Bely. Markers along the trail not only label trees but also have a QR code that contains information about the trees and a map of those that are tagged.

Not only does the project aim to enrich residents’ knowledge about the local environment, it also promotes expanding the tree canopy in neighborhoods throughout the city. A robust canopy can reduce heating and cooling costs, improve air quality and increase home values.

“City residents are increasingly interested in preserving and expanding the tree canopy, so a lot of residents are asking themselves what kind of trees they could plant in this area, and it’s hard to make that choice if you haven’t seen or are unable to recognize some of these trees,” Bely noted. “One of the additional reasons why we went ahead and started this project is to help people make informed decisions about what trees they might plant on their property.”

Property owners who plant trees can apply to the city’s Tree Canopy Enhancement Program for an annual reimbursement of up to $150 for approved trees. Residents can also ask the city to plant and maintain street trees.

Though Bely has been instrumental in launching the labeling project, the entire committee is working collectively to implement it. The CBE includes 15 to 20 residents who are appointed by the city to represent each district. The committee, which operates with city funding, meets monthly and implements service programs to preserve local natural resources and promote awareness of sustainable practices. 

In addition to sponsoring the tree labeling project along the trolley trail, the CBE has been organizing a project to paint city storm drains in an effort to raise awareness that College Park, which is located in the Anacostia River Watershed, is part of a very large stormwater management system. A handful of the storm drains have already been painted, according to Bely, to remind people that the items that go down the drain actually go into an extensive freshwater ecosystem.