Each year the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program and Council sponsors the Vermont Tree Steward Awards as a way to recognize our state's urban and community forestry champions.
Hamilton: In recognition of a Tree Warden who has significantly advanced the goals of urban and community forestry through successful forestry practices, effective conservation planning, increased citizen engagement, and active public education. This award is in honor of Dr. Larry Hamilton, the former Tree Warden in Charlotte, and is limited to Tree Wardens.
Leader: An individual who, through services to their community or organization, has shown leadership and dedication in carrying out an urban or community forestry effort.
Unsung Hero: An individual and/or group who work(s) behind the scenes and consistently goes above and beyond to make a difference in their community's urban and community forest.
Volunteer Group/Community: An organization, team or ad/hoc group, or community who, through their efforts, have shown outstanding dedication and commitment in introducing or sustaining an urban & community forestry project within their community.
The Vermont Tree Steward Awards are announced in April. Awardees will be recognized on VT UCF's site, social media platforms, and a press release.
2021 Tree Steward Recipients
Hamilton Award: Chuck Vile, Essex Tree Warden
Chuck has been the Tree Warden for the Town of Essex for longer than most people can remember, and he has always performed his duties with diligence, integrity, and a congenial can-do attitude. His breadth of knowledge and years of wisdom are invaluable to the community and the Conservation and Trails Committee, and he puts it to good use in a wide range of activities. These include helping homeowners assess individual tree health, conducting rural road inventories, reviewing landscaping plans for development, fixing erosion problems on forest trails, or coordinating contractors for emerald ash borer response efforts and town forest timber operations. Most folks don't realize how much Chuck does for Essex, but his hand is present in anything to do with trees.
Leader Award: Tom Estill, Rutland
Tom has devoted his work to restoring the American chestnut tree to Vermont. A fungus accidentally introduced to American soil in 1904 has since virtually killed all of the native chestnut trees. A lifelong science teacher, naturalist, outdoorsman, and space educator, Tom’s work on the American chestnut stems from interest in the movement to bring back blight resistant American chestnut groves. In 2014, as a volunteer at Christ the King Middle School in Rutland, Tom encouraged the 8th graders to choose these trees for their annual community-based project. At that time, he acquired fifty seedlings of American chestnut trees from across the country that, while not fully resistant, seemed to have good outcomes against the blight. Tom oversaw the planting of these 50 seedlings throughout Pine Hill Park in Rutland, and has since personally watered each sapling 2-3 times a week during the summer months, applied deer repellant in the winter months, and conducts weekly checks throughout the year for debris removal, fertilizer, and trimming of nearby overhead branches. In 2019, Tom contacted The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), who solicited folks to start orchards. He met with the VT/NH TACF chapter president to review ideas and plans. TACF gave Tom approximately 50 seedlings to start an orchard in Vermont. These seedlings came from champion trees throughout New England. Tom carefully planned two locations for planting: the Mount St. Joseph High School and the Alan Street Campus, keeping his project accessible to and involved with local students. Tom has since received a grant from TACF to continue his work at these orchards and expansion. When asked about his motivation for American chestnuts, Tom has said he wants to be a part of righting a wrong, and would love to see Rutland, VT as the “American Chestnut Capital of Vermont.”
Unsung Hero Award: Nancy Knox, Branch Out Burlington!
Nancy Knox grew up exploring Vermont’s woods, and her insatiable curiosity about trees led her to study Forestry/Plant & Soil Science at UVM. She received a Master’s from Conway School of Landscape Design and then worked for a landscape design/build company for many years. Her education and work experience prepared her well to contribute to Vermont’s urban and community forests. She joined the Branch Out Burlington! (BOB!) board in the late 90’s and provides leadership which is essential for the effectiveness of the organization. She has led over 17 BOB! tree walks around Burlington, which are very well-attended. These events are designed to educate the public about the value of trees and she is an expert at transferring her extensive knowledge and passion for trees to people of all ages. She conducted tree inventories after the 1998 ice storm and served on Vermont’s Urban Forestry Council for several years. BOB! is only one of Nancy’s many environmentally-oriented public service activities. She is a Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, and Master Composter intern, and assists with environmental training of the public on these subjects. Her technical experience is invaluable to supporting the wellbeing of the urban forest of Chittenden County and beyond.
Volunteer Group Award: Austin Parcel Floodplain Forest Restoration: A Community Collaboration
Volunteer Group Award: Guilford Conservation Commission
The Guilford Conservation Commission (GCC) has diligently worked to pro-actively address the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer on our native ash trees. Members of GCC began studying invasive insect pests more than 5 years ago, discussing the impact on our forests and widely sharing information with Guilford land owners. Two years ago members mobilized as the EAB was discovered nearby. They requested training from Urban & Community Forests to learn more about EAB, including hands-on training to inventory Guilford’s ash trees. They developed local protocols and learned how to use online mapping tools to identify and locate ash trees along Guilford’s roads and town properties. They donned safety vests to walk all 67 miles of Guilford’s roads singly or in pairs, mapping each tree and reporting on its status and condition for Vermont’s Roadside Ash Inventory. Last spring, despite Covid lockdowns, they completed this field work, following pandemic guidelines for safe outdoor gathering, eventually counting over 2700 ash trees. Results were mapped onto highway maps for the Road Crew and incorporated into the town budget to provide for taking down hazard trees preventively. The GCC participated in EAB Awareness Week by posting locally-created signs on prominent ash trees and with daily informative postings on Front Porch Forum. This year the GCC will protect several important ash trees on town property by engaging an arborist to apply environmentally-approved vaccinations, serving as a model for others who may wish to preserve special trees. They are also applying for an Arbor Day grant, in collaboration with Guilford Central School, to beautify and provide shade to a field between the school and town office, mentoring school children about planting and caring for trees and the importance of trees to our eco-systems.
The women leading the group are inspiring, deeply-committed and efficient. They bring a diverse set of skills to the work, and are always ready to learn, follow through, document, and teach.
Previous Award Recipients
Many Vermont tree and forest champions have been recognized; click the link below to explore their great work for Vermont's trees!