Baltimore Tree Trust planted its 10,000th tree in Baltimore, but the city remains far behind a goal set by former Mayor Martin O’Malley to increase Baltimore’s tree canopy to 40% by 2037. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.
Baltimore Tree Trust planted its 10,000th tree in Baltimore, but the city remains far behind a goal set by former Mayor Martin O’Malley to increase Baltimore’s tree canopy to 40% by 2037. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

Twelve years after the Baltimore Tree Trust was established to aid the mayor’s office initiative to expand Baltimore’s tree canopy, called Tree Baltimore, members of the nonprofit organization and other volunteers gathered in Winans Meadow at Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park on Tuesday to plant their 10,000th tree in the city.

In 2008, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley pledged to increase the city’s tree coverage from 26% to 40% by 2037, said Justin Bowers, associate director of Baltimore Tree Trust.

When Baltimore Tree Trust was founded, organizers focused their efforts on planting trees in the neighborhood around McElderly Park, which had the fewest trees in Baltimore. The nonprofit has since expanded its efforts to the whole city.

Although the group has now planted 10,000 trees, they have only been able to increase Baltimore’s tree canopy by about 1%.

That’s because so many trees have been chopped down or not been given proper care, thus undoing a lot of the work by Baltimore Tree Trust and other organizations, Bowers said.

Even the current 27% tree coverage is a “crude figure,” he said, because it does not account for trees that need to be taken down due to disease, or trees that are slated for removal as part of development projects.

As Baltimore Tree Trust begins planting its next 10,000 trees, Bowers said Baltimore needs to also be focused on conserving the trees that the city already has.

“We need to be as cognizant about protecting the forest that we already have as we are about putting trees where there previously were no trees,” he said. “If we lose Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park to infrastructure development because we don’t value what it brings to us, then ultimately it’s a disservice to the entire city.”

Bridget McCusker and Tony Crute, two members of the nonprofit Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, both live nearby and visit the park every Tuesday with a group of fellow volunteers to pick up trash and do general maintenance. Crute also comes on Saturdays to remove invasive species, like English ivy, which kills trees.

“We just love this park because it’s an incredible place. It’s one of the biggest wild urban parks on the east coast,” Crute said of the approximately 1,200-acre park.

McCusker said she has seen more people visiting the park during the coronavirus pandemic.

“During the pandemic, we’ve had more people coming to the park than ever, which has been great,” she said. “I think people are understanding and realizing the benefits of the outdoors. It’s really the safest place you can be during the pandemic.”

Trees can have assorted benefits for communities, particularly in urban areas like Baltimore, said Valerie Bloom, a Baltimore Tree Trust volunteer.

For example, Baltimore has some of the highest rates of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the country, which Bloom said can be attributed partly to air pollution from two incinerators in South Baltimore. But mature trees can absorb about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, she said.

Trees can help mitigate the “urban heat island effect” by providing shade coverage and cooling the air with the water that evaporates off of their leaves, Bloom said.

Bowers said trees also absorb rainwater so that waterways and sewer systems are not overwhelmed by stormwater runoff.

But many of those benefits are only provided by mature trees, Bowers said, which makes it that much more important to retain and maintain existing trees.

Bowers said more funds, staff and other resources need to be invested into tree maintenance in Baltimore City.

A holistic approach to tree maintenance includes controlling deer overpopulation so that deer do not eat young tree shoots and give the next generation of trees a fighting chance.

It also includes managing invasive species, culling trees that are decaying or hazardous, and training Baltimoreans to care for trees and green spaces in their communities, Bowers said.

“Actually having the ability to track, monitor and maintain your trees is a huge predictor of how well those trees are going to do,” he said. “If you plant a tree and then you forget about it or you don’t follow it, it’s likely to either succumb to environmental conditions like invasive plants that grow up it or, if it’s in a more urban area, then it may become a nuisance.”

McCusker said the members of the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park tend to be older, and she hopes more young people will get involved as environmental stewards.

“They’re an incredible group of people, but they’re getting up in age. So we need to get the next generation in to help so that we can keep doing what we’re doing,” she said.

Although Baltimore Tree Trust is not having any volunteer events this year, the nonprofit is welcoming people to sign up now to volunteer in spring 2021. People interested in volunteering can visit or email

UPDATE: This story was updated to indicate that the name of former Mayor Martin O’Malley’s tree planting initiative was Tree Baltimore.

Avatar photo

Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at

3 replies on “Baltimore Tree Trust plants 10,000th tree with a mission to increase Baltimore’s tree canopy”

  1. This is a wonderful project, our Green Places will be blooming! What about the rows and rows of abandoned houses? No one is going to restore them..I suppose the City will just let them fall down by themselves. Clear them out and renew Baltimores
    Inner City! Build new Row houses that our citizens can afford to buy or rent. Increase Police Protection for the Majority of law abiding people who live in Inner City Neighborhoods. I can’t imagine the fear that Mothers harbor for their Children…we don’t need more TREES we need to remake are neighborhoods what they were 40 years ago when people could walk down the street without fear!

    1. My understanding is that Baltimore takes down about 1,000 abandoned houses per year but there are about 18,000 abandoned houses in the city, so even at the rate of 1,000 per year, it will take some time to get all those abandoned houses down. The issue is further complicated because Baltimore does not own all those abandoned houses. One of the best stories detailing the problem was written for The New Republic by the first editor of Baltimore Fishbowl, Rachel Monroe. Read the story by following this link:

Comments are closed.