Tree Warden Profile: Brad Goedkoop, Hartford

“I just love trees!"

Quick Facts

Name: Brad Goedkoop
Profession: Woodworker
Town: Hartford
Population: 10,367
Area: 46 square miles
Years serving as tree warden: 6
Favorite Tree: white oak (Quercus alba)
Advice for other tree wardens: “Approach the role with strength and integrity, it’s not a job where the intention is to please everyone; it takes a forward attitude.  Lay low at first and understand the political landscape."

While for many people trees exist as a  backdrop, Brad can’t help but to notice trees. Ever since he was a kid, growing up in southern New York, he’s had a certain affinity for trees. There’s something about trees that just sticks with him; he recognizes them by their leaves and their bark in a way that most of us don’t. If put to the challenge, Brad could likely identify every tree in the state of Vermont. This keen fixation, Brad admits, can be exasperating for his walking partners who are regularly treated to a lesson on local forestry. But it is this same skill that makes Brad both competent at passionate for his position as Hartford tree warden. 

Brad (back left) and members of the Hartford Tree Board, accepting Hartford's Tree City USA designation honor at the 2017 VT Arbor Day Conference.Given his knack for all-things-trees, it should come as no surprise that Brad would make for an outstanding tree warden. Except to Brad himself who, ever-humble, was stunned at the prospect. Despite years on Hartford’s Tree Board and a wealth of knowledge, Brad had never seen himself taking on a role like tree warden. However, when a colleague on the Tree Board suggested he take the position, the transition seemed a natural one. In the time since Brad took over in 2011, he has become a vital part of the Hartford community, working tirelessly to ensure proper care for the town’s tree population. 

In describing his work as tree warden, Brad emphasizes the need for both strength and integrity. While many in the tree community have a desire to work with everyone, the role of tree warden requires an ability to deal with conflict rather than run away from it. Brad is not afraid to be abrasive in situations where he sees the benefit of those actions. While he would prefer to work together both with homeowners and the town, at the end of the day Brad sees his responsibility as towards the taxpayer and in many ways the tree population itself. He works selflessly, willing both to give up his position to anyone more qualified (not likely that will happen anytime soon) and to work, unpaid, for the indefinite future. In fact, Brad wouldn’t accept a paycheck if it was offered to him. As it is now, he’s not beholden to anyone, able to make the best moral and environmental decisions. Brad carries this philosophy throughout his work as tree warden. 

The Town of Hartford has been very active in supporting the existing tree population. The Tree Board holds events, from Arbor Day celebrations to tree identification walks, throughout the year to liven tree support within the citizen population. There has also been a concerted effort within the last ten years to add more greenery throughout the town. Through improvements to state roads and activity in the Parks and Recreation Department, a large amount of ornamental and urban tree planting has occurred within public spaces. Following a growing trend, much of these trees have been native or near native species. While Brad supported these plantings, as any arborist knows, the first years of a tree’s life are critical for ensuring long-term health. The maintenance of these trees fell solely on Brad’s shoulders and attempting to fit structural pruning of the trees into his limited spare time was a challenge. Luckily the situation has changed. Last year Brad went to the Tree Board, explained the situation and asked for help. The support was tremendous; through the Tree Board and the new Town Manager Brad could secure the funding to put in place a comprehensive pruning schedule, especially for the smaller trees that most needed the attention.

Brad demonstrating proper pruning of young trees.Brad’s work doesn’t stop with maintenance. He is improving the town's comprehensive tree inventory, participates in many events and tree sales, and writes stories regularly in the local paper. He wants to develop a positive awareness of how trees improve the quality of life for Hartford residents. This time of year, however, after the snow melts and the trees begin to leaf out, Brad finds himself in the middle of what can be rather contentious disputes. Whether it’s a tree leaning into the public right-of-way or on the verge of falling into a neighbor's porch, or even a homeowner who unknowingly cuts trees within a riparian zone, handling disputes requires working with people. Some homeowners are upset with the town, others fail to respond and still others are genuine in wanting to do what’s best for the tree and the town. Throughout these encounters, Brad uses his strong moral compass and amiable personality to navigate these disputes to a place he feels is best for the environment. 

Thank you to Brad Goedkoop for bringing a passion for trees and moral clarity to your work as Hartford tree warden, you are an inspiration to us all! 

- Brad's tree warden profile was written by Greta Binzen, VT UCF 2017 summer intern