By Anne Semmes
Gratitude Groves introduced as a living monument to the town’s first responders
The Town of Greenwich has grown significantly greener coming out of the grip of a pandemic thanks to a humane gesture toward those frontline workers and local heroes who have served the community in this devastating time of Covid-19. The Greenwich Tree Conservancy (GTC) partnering with the Department of Parks and Recreation are planting a total of 42 trees in four Gratitude Groves across town.
Last Friday, the first Gratitude Grove located on the slopes of Havemeyer Park, behind Greenwich Common, was officially celebrated on Arbor Day. Some 30 people gathered before a half dozen of 15 newly planted Carolina Silverbell trees.
First Selectman Fred Camillo did not have far to travel to salute this new green gift to the Town.
“When the story of this pandemic is written,” he began, “It’s not going to only be about the devastation that it caused, it’s going to be about frontline workers, first responders, people who cleaned our buildings and kept us safe and clean. People delivered food, people who picked up our trash…And we salute them…This is what this Gratitude Grove is going to be.”
Cheryl Dunson, GTC president, in her opening remarks, cited the Gratitude Grove as “a living remembrance and recognition for those today who have helped us so much during this pandemic” “Heroism comes in many forms,” she said, “Whether they be in the hospital, on the road, in our homes.”
Dunson introduced surely one of those heroes, Greenwich Hospital CEO Diane Kelly. “We’re grateful to be here to honor the first responders in a beautiful tribute to see something at the end of what we think is the crisis part of the pandemic. It’s spring. Its hope, its renewal.” Kelly had spoken earlier of how she sees the Greenwich community putting “in the forefront what everyone can enjoy and that’s the nature –especially during this time of COVID when we’ve all been isolating.”
Chief of Police Jim Heavey addressed attending Greenwich Fire Chief Joseph McHugh, and GEMS director Tracy Schietinger in his remarks. “It was a difficult position that we were all in responding to all these multiple emergencies. But the community backed us up with just small gestures of support which really made a difference – and this is even a bigger gesture of support. We’re going to make sure that all of our staff know about this, and the recognition that they’re continuing to get because they’re still out there doing the job for us every day.”
JoAnn Messina, GTC executive director, then invited Acting Deputy Tree Warden Joe Kaye to address the specific species of each of the four Gratitude Groves. “Each Grove has been created to have their own unique scenery in our Parks,” he said. At the Montgomery Pinetum, seven Pawpaw trees planted. At Greenwich Point 13 Persimmon trees planted. At Western Greenwich Civic Center seven hackberry trees planted. And in Havemeyer Park those 15 Carolina Silver Bells, he said, “will delight both insects and people with their early white bell-shaped spring blooms.”
Messina also introduced CT DEEP Western Region Service Forester Dave Beers. “He is here for a special designation. “Greenwich is one of a handful of communities in CT,” he said, “that has a Tree City USA designation meaning you guys are dedicated to trees in your community and all the benefits it provides your citizens. The state of Connecticut is honored to bring this award to you every year – as long as you continue to qualify for it which we hope you do. So, I present this to JoAnn, and you should be proud to be one of a handful of communities in Connecticut and a larger handful of communities in the United States at similar ceremonies across the whole United States today.”
Peter Malkin, as founding chairman of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, had the last words.
“Thank you all for being here first of all. And I want to congratulate Joe Kay at a time when we still have daffodils, and we have our trees in bloom all at the same time.”
Citing the GTC partnership with the Parks Department, Malkin noted, “We’ve been doing this now for 15 years. And it gets better every year. It’s a pleasure to work with Fred Camillo, and particularly the first responder group, but also the regular workers who treat people.”
Malkin, who takes pride in the nearly 5000 trees GTC has added to the Greenwich landscape, cited those four new Gratitude Groves as “creating a living monument to the brave people who carried Greenwich through a great pandemic to a new beginning.”