Juneau to get its own millennium tree grove

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

All the other state capitals have one thing in common - a millennium tree grove. Now Juneau will have one, too.

On Thursday, the Juneau Tree Committee will announce its plan for the grove at a 7 p.m. meeting in Room 224 at City Hall. Trees will be planted near the Calhoun Street stairs on the hill behind the Fireweed Place senior apartments, said Christopher Mertl, landscape architect and chairman of the committee.

"The idea is that you actually don't walk through (the grove) at a ground level. Because the stairs are elevated, you ... walk through the canopy as opposed to walking through the trees as you typically would," Mertl said.

The planting of millennium groves is a national effort initiated by the U.S. Forest Service in 2000. Funds were provided to each state capital for planting costs, with seedlings and small trees from "historic" lots used to fill the groves.

"I believe there's pine trees from the (Abraham) Lincoln log cabin area, magnolias from down South," Mertl said. "Unfortunately, none of them would grow in Alaska."

The Tree Committee, formed this year, made the grove its first major project. Mertl, landscape architect Josha Dupere and former landscape architect Rai Behnert convinced the Forest Service to provide Juneau with about $3,000 instead of plant material and worked together on a design.

"The heart of the grove is a cluster of Alaskan cedars," Mertl said. "We are trying to use native trees. Not all of them will be native to Juneau, but they'll be native at the very least to North America."

Cherries, service berries and hawthorns - spring-flowering trees - will surround the cedars, and at the periphery of the grove, trees with autumn leaf colors will be planted.

"We'll have signs up identifying the different trees so that people can learn," Mertl said. "For the residents of Fireweed Place, we're going to help screen the concrete parking garage of the State Office Building."

Existing vegetation, including raspberries and wildflowers, generally will be protected. However, one or two of the cottonwood trees may be removed.

"We want to add a little bit of excitement by adding some trees to that area," Mertl said. "It will almost become a miniature arboretum. We hope that over the years this will be an ongoing project for the Juneau community."

The committee hopes to begin planting in August.

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