Tree Warden Profile: Mark Dillenbeck, Charlotte

“Well, I’m not in it for the money!”

Quick Facts

Name: Mark Dillenbeck
Profession: Market Research
Town: Charlotte
Population: 3,569
Area: 50.38 square miles
Years serving as tree warden: less than 1
Favorite Tree: tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Advice for other tree wardens: “Recruit some helpers and think about having a deputy tree warden; I have a lot going on at work and with family so it’s nice to have someone to help motivate me.  Also, attend the workshops that are available.”

Ever since Mark took over as the tree warden for Charlotte, people have been reminding him just how big the shoes he had to fill were. The previous tree warden, Larry Hamilton, had been a long time friend of Mark’s and had served as tree warden in Charlotte for twenty years before he passed away in the fall of 2016. Mark served as deputy tree warden under Larry for six years, learning from his friend and working in tandem to grow the tree community in Charlotte. In honor of Larry, VT UCF has inaugurated a new award to recognize an outstanding tree warden annually. No one knows more than Mark how instrumental Larry’s work had been in the community; he describes Larry’s work as reimagining what a tree warden could be. While Larry certainly left a legacy in Charlotte and throughout Vermont, Mark has taken the role of tree warden and made it his own.

Mark speaks at an event to honor Charlotte's previous tree warden, Larry Hamilton, and a champion slippery elm that had succumbed to Dutch elm disease.Mark is a transplant from Long Island, moving around until the late 90’s when he and his family made their way to Vermont, living first in Hinesburg and eventually settling in Charlotte. He has spent time in Paraguay as a Peace Corps member, where he worked in an agricultural tech school and also worked on international forest policy and certifications for well-managed forests. Despite a master's degree in forestry, Mark now spends his working hours (50+ per week) running a market research firm.  That’s one of the reasons he enjoys his work as tree warden: it reconnects him with trees, taking him away from his desk and back to nature. For Mark, the role of tree warden also connects him with the Charlotte community; he’s constantly meeting and interacting with new people in a way that feels meaningful. 

What makes Charlotte an especially great town for tree wardens is that the human population adores their tree population. They are very attentive to the trees, keeping an eye on potential hazards or disease. Mark get calls all the time from people who just want to pick his brain about a tree concern they have. Such devotion has gotten to the point where Mark spends more time trying to convince people to take a hazardous tree down than vice-versa; very few people put in requests for tree removals unless they see an imminent hazard.

Mark works closely with what is known infromatlly as the Charlotte Tree Tribe, a group consisting of Mark, his deputy tree warden, and a group of committed tree stewards. They work in their spare time, typically in the evenings, on tree maintenance, pruning, and watering. Mark credits the Tree Tribe, especially his deputy tree warden, Sue Smith, for continuous motivation and new ideas. Given his full-time job its necessary to have a team of people working together to keep up the effort of tree care throughout Charlotte. Through this collaborative effort, trees in Charlotte are cared for and Mark gets the occasional weekend to rest.

While most of Mark’s work is responding to public requests he says it’s also important to have some fun. One of his favorite programs is the champion tree contest where citizens go out and try to find the largest of each tree species in Charlotte. They keep a running list of each champion tree. Mark explains how through these activities, residents truly see the trees around them; they go out into the woods and they look at the trees as individuals, noticing each for their size and their species. Another of Mark’s projects was to secure grant funding through VT UCF. He used this money to coordinate a tree planting event, putting a number of disease-resistant elms in the ground. In addition he regularly writes for the town newspaper to keep local citizens informed on tree issues around town.  

Mark with his deputy tree warden, Sue Smith (left) and Linda Hamilton, the widow of former tree warden Larry, accepting the inaugural Tree Warden Award at the 2017 VT Arbor Day Conference.Despite this long list of tree warden activities, Mark is still looking to do more. Despite a recently completed tree inventory, he believes the system can be improved. Right now the inventory is static - a snapshot in time that needs to be redone with each change in tree population. He envisions a system that can be easily updated, allowing all recent plantings, removals, and tree maintenance to be logged comprehensively. Through endeavors like this, Mark brings a new perspective to what is needed to promote tree well-being in Charlotte. While this may be a new role for Mark, he needn’t worry too much about filling Larry’s shoes; in less than a year he has already made the position his own. 

Thank you Mark for your commitment to the role of tree warden.  Good luck in the many years to come caring for the trees in Charlotte!

- Mark's profile was developed and written by Greta Binzen, VT UCF summer 2017 intern.