Don Clapp: Behind the scenes champion of Saluda’s trees

Published 10:00 pm Friday, March 27, 2015


Don Clapp, chairman of Saluda’s Tree City USA group, is pictured with a young redbud tree that the group planted at McCreery Park last week in celebration of Arbor Day. This tree is native to this region, is a non-nuisance species and will not interfere with overhead power lines. (Photos by Mark Schmerling)

Saluda is the first town in Polk County to qualify for the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA designation.

Don Clapp, the very modest chairman of Saluda’s Tree City USA group, which has planted and will plant trees whose shade their members will sit in, gives credit to all of the many others who have made this happen.

Regardless, Clapp’s love of the outdoors, and his public-minded make-up, are large factors in the rapid success of this group.

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On March 20, the group celebrated Arbor Day by planting a redbud tree in Saluda’s McCreery Park, along Ervin Street, where four huge stumps remind folks that smaller trees, like redbuds, are better suited for urban environs. Redbuds are also a non-nuisance species.

Clapp said he moved to Saluda early in 2012. He noted that the timing was right, because at that time Brian Rodgers, Polk County ranger for the North Carolina Division of Wildlife, made a presentation about Tree City USA. Afterward, someone suggested forming a tree board.

A group including Clapp, Ruth Anderson, and Saluda City Commissioner Lynn Cass, met in the late summer or early fall of 2013.

As an aside, Clapp credited Anderson (who made a presentation at the recent Arbor Day ceremony in Saluda) for her longstanding dedication to providing the public with the many social and environmental benefits of trees. Anderson had already been involved with, and was dedicated to, a tree preservation group.

“Ruth Anderson deserves a lot of recognition,” Clapp emphasized. “She’s been involved in Tree City for years, and tree preservation for years.”

Tree City USA is about urban tree planting and maintenance, insuring that an urban area will benefit from the presence of native trees.

Saluda’s Tree City USA group is working on a list of native trees appropriate for planting beneath power lines.

“Main Street will be our primary focus, at least for this fall,” Clapp noted. Ozone Drive will be another area of focus.

While urban beautification is not a direct goal of Tree City USA, it is an inevitable result. Clapp notes that trees provide shade, help the environment in many ways, provide a cooling effect, take up carbon dioxide and supply oxygen.  The presence of trees, he notes, “just makes an area more appealing to people.” Trees also provide economic benefit, Clapp pointed out.

Criteria for a municipality to qualify for Tree City USA status include establishing a tree board, staging an Arbor Day celebration, having an expenditure of at least $2 per capita, and a tree ordinance.

While Saluda already has an ordinance, the Tree City USA group is working on a public tree ordinance, which will deal with trees in parks and other public property.

Because the city’s ordinance has already helped Clapp’s group achieve its needed status, creating the public ordinance is not critical. But, when its put into place, “hopefully, it can be a model for private citizens,” Clapp offered. In addition, it will provide guidance for the care and maintenance of public trees, including their selection for planting.

The city has helped in other ways, Clapp remarked.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden, who read a proclamation at the group’s Arbor Day celebration and tree planting, “is supportive,” Clapp said. “I appreciate that.”

Further, Clapp said, John Cannon, the city’s zoning officer has been a great help, having made suggestions during the process of developing a public tree ordinance.

Saluda Community Land Trust (SCLT) has also worked closely with, and been supportive of, the Tree City USA group, said Clapp, who also serves as an SCLT officer. SCLT provided some of its trees for the Tree City USA effort.

Tree City is also working on an Adopt-A-Tree program, aimed at obtaining volunteer contributions to aid in purchasing trees for planting. Clapp said. He also said that the group is looking into obtaining grants as alternative funding.

Tree City USA board members provided funding for the recently-planted red bud tree.

Clapp noted that Ruth Anderson made the first contribution to the Tree City fund, a line item in the city’s budget. While Saluda’s Tree City USA group does not qualify for tax-deductible contributions at this point, such contributions may be made to the City of Saluda. Clapp noted that tax-exempt status for Saluda’s Tree City USA group make it easier for the group to obtain grant funding.

Sauda’s Tree City USA board includes, Clapp, Anderson, Betsy Burdett, Nancy Barnett, Walter Hoover and Elena Robson.

For its Arbor Day planting, the group received assistance from Eric P. Muecke, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ urban forestry specialist for Western North Carolina.

In addition, Muecke created a maintenance priority plan for city trees in Saluda.

Saluda’s Tree City USA group was one of only two North Carolina municipalities to be granted that status in 2014. Tree City USA is not a new effort by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Charlotte has been a Tree City USA for some 30 years, and Hendersonville for about 24 years. Officials from Hendersonville’s group have also aided Saluda’s efforts.