by Garth Davis, Spokane Conservation District
Ritzville is a small town in eastern Washington, located on I-90 between Spokane and Moses Lake. The population is just under 1,700 people. This agricultural community sees lots of train traffic and cars speeding by on the freeway, but the pace slows down within city limits. The town qualified for Tree City USA a few years back and has been working hard to populate its public spaces with thriving trees.
In September, a windstorm blew through the Columbia Basin damaging trees in several communities. Ritzville was hit hard — almost a third of the big trees in its main park were thrown by the wind or damaged to the point that they have to be removed. Residential areas around the city park were also hard hit with street trees and yard trees sustaining damage. Silver maples and blue spruce made up a large proportion of Ritzville’s mature canopy. These trees fared especially poorly in the storm with many of the spruce wind-thrown, and silver maples both blown over and ripped apart by the high winds.
Four people make up the city crew in Ritzville. These positions maintain all of the public works including parks. Just cleaning up the mess created by wind-thrown and damaged trees was a monumental task. However, one of the benefits of being an agricultural community is the abundance of large trucks and heavy equipment. Farmers and businesses in the area came out in force to provide labor and equipment capable of hauling off limbs, trunks and root balls. A project that would have cost the small town over $100,000 to complete was handled in two days with just a little over-time thanks to the generosity of the surrounding community.
Mike Schrag is on the local tree board and has led the effort to replant after the disaster. Mike worked with the City Clerk to secure a tree planting grant from the DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program. If Ritzville had not already qualified as a Tree City they would not have been eligible for the grant. More than 50 trees were purchased and are in the process of being planted by the city crew at several locations, including the city park, golf course, and along streets in several residential areas. Out of this disaster will spring the next generation of Ritzville’s urban forest.