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Tree Fresno reboots efforts to improve our quality of life


By Bill McEwen – The Fresno Bee

Originally published in the Fresno Bee onWednesday, Sep. 26, 2012


It’s not like Tree Fresno has been in witness protection. The nonprofit has lived up to its name by planting 39,000 trees over 27 years, including 4,100 on school campuses.

But the organization is beginning to rebrand itself, anyway, and preach to local leaders about how raising Fresno’s quality of life would invigorate an underperforming economy.

Their strategy — creating more trails and greenbelts while continuing to add to the urban forest — will be unveiled this afternoon with a reception and tour of Tree Fresno’s new office across from the Gibson Farm Market at Fresno State.

“We’re proud of our accomplishments,” says John Valentino, president of Tree Fresno’s board of directors. At the same time, he says Tree Fresno is frustrated about high crime, unemployment and dropout rates.

Says Tree Fresno board member Mark Keppler: “The status quo is unacceptable. If we improve our quality of life, we will see economic development.”

These aren’t radical ideas. They echo what economists cite when analyzing why some cities prosper and others stumble along or deteriorate.

“Trees, trails and greenbelts make our region investment-worthy,” says Lee Ayres, Tree Fresno’s chief executive officer.

To its credit, Tree Fresno is thinking big.

Its leaders want to vault Fresno from last in parks among the nation’s 40 largest cities to the top 10 over the next decade. They want to build partnerships with every high school in the region. They’re talking about developing a Valley Arboretum that would be a signature amenity for the region. And they’re planning to plant groves of trees honoring military veterans on the San Joaquin River and Fancher Creek parkways.

All of these efforts require money, as well as elbow grease from scores of volunteers.

Getting people out to plant trees has never been a problem for Tree Fresno. For example, 2,800 volunteers turned out for the Great Rail Tree Planting in 2000.

Money? Well, that’s always a problem — but the cupboard isn’t as bare as you might think. Before voters overwhelmingly passed Fresno County’s 20-year transportation sales tax extension in 2006, proponents touted that $53.3 million would go to trails in urban and rural locations.

The recession has knocked down that total. Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments, says the half-cent tax is on track to generate about $42 million for trails — a total that would rise as the economy picks up.

But Fresno’s financial plunge and slow recovery have delivered a double whammy. Not only have local governments cut back on park and trail maintenance to balance budgets, the county and its cities lack money to service new trails that could be built today with Measure C funds.

In addition, the Measure C spending plan strictly regulates trail funds: “They must be spent on new trails,” Boren says. “Meanwhile, Fresno and Clovis are saying, ‘We can’t afford to maintain what we have now.’ ”

A solution: How about the people who lobbied for Measure C trails go to COG and ask for a tweak that would allow some funds to be used on trail maintenance? In return, the Fresno and Clovis city councils could agree to make new trails and greenbelts a higher priority when the economy picks up.

Our county is greener than it was in 1985 when Tree Fresno’s first volunteers raised $27,000 with a telethon and planted trees in downtown and the Tower District.

We need to get greener still. Think of it as a down payment on prosperity.


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McGowan Family Donates Funding for Tree Fresno Facilities

McGowan Family Donates Funding for Tree Fresno Facilities

Fresno, California. January 7, 2016. Tree Fresno announced today that the TC McGowan Family has established a long-term funding plan to cover the cost of the organization’s headquarter facilities which are located on the Fresno State campus. Currently, Tree Fresno pays quarterly rent to the University. In making the announcement, Tree Fresno Chief Executive Officer, Lee Ayres, noted that the “McGowan Family donation will reduce the gap between our expenses for operations and income from donations and events. This is wonderful news for Tree Fresno as it helps us bridge the gap and continue with our mission to transform the San Joaquin Valley with trees, trails and beautiful landscapes. We are grateful to the McGowan Family for this generous donation. They have been long-time supporters of Tree Fresno and continue to show their support.

“Tree Fresno is one of those community organizations that needs everyone’s support,” said Tom McGowan. “It does great work and is unique within our region. I have been amazed at how much it accomplishes with such a small band of supporters.” The McGowan Family owns and operates Automated Office Systems which has offices in Fresno, Visalia and Merced. “The work they perform enhances all of our lives,” McGowan noted.

“Tree Fresno has a 30 year history of planting trees throughout our four county region,” Ayres said. “In those 30 years we have planted over 40,000 trees in parks, trails, medians and school sites.” In order to sustain this progress in the years to come, Tree Fresno has launched the “San Joaquin Green” initiative an ongoing plan to create Tribute Groves, the Valley Arboretum, a demonstration garden, living laboratories at the schools, and other transformative greening programs for the San Joaquin Valley.

For more information contact Tree Fresno at 559-221-5556 or visit

Fresno Bee Article Link

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EDITORIAL: Tree Fresno offers vision for improving our community

Trees, trails, greenbelts can make us investment worthy.

The Fresno Bee
Friday, Oct. 05, 2012


For almost three decades, Tree Fresno has been making our community greener by planting thousands of trees and encouraging residents and businesses to join the effort. Now the reinvigorated organization is pushing local leaders to understand that trees, trails and greenbelts can help improve the local economy by improving the quality of life.

Tree Fresno has moved its offices to the Fresno State campus, and is pushing several proposals, including developing a Valley Arboretum that the group’s leaders say would be a signature amenity for our region. The trail system arboretum could link the San Joaquin River, the Kings River, regional parks and entertainment districts.

Lee Ayres, Tree Fresno’s CEO/executive director, said the Valley Arboretum should be in the new General Plans for the cities of Fresno and Clovis and Fresno County.

We support the mission of Tree Fresno and believe the Valley Arboretum would improve the region’s quality of life.

Our region hasn’t always appreciated the importance of greenbelts and open space. It seemed that undeveloped land needed to be paved, and strip malls on every corner was our version of signature amenities. That’s why Fresno ranks last in parks space among the nation’s 40 largest cities.

Fortunately, Tree Fresno has been working to change that score, and has a goal of Fresno being in the top 10 over the next decade. Ayres says this isn’t just about making our region greener. It’s about making it “investment worthy” by improving property values and broadening the tax base.

“Parks and community landscapes encourage business investment/relocation, increase community pride, reduce crime and help bring neighborhoods together,” John M. Valentino, co-founder of Tree Fresno, said in a commentary in The Bee. “Poverty-stricken cities usually have low street tree and park maintenance budgets. But who wants to move to a city or invest in a city of dead trees and unkempt or barren landscapes?”

Trees, trails and greenbelts are investments in our economy. We appreciate the commitment of Tree Fresno, and for working to remind us that appearance matters when a business is considering moving to our region.

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Award for Tree Fresno!

El Dorado Park.JPG

The Calfornia Urban Forest Council presented Tree Fresno with the “Outstanding Urban Forestry Project of the Year” award at its annual meeting in Sacramento on November 15, 2012. This recognizes the transformation of the El Dorado Park neighborhood with the planting of 79 trees in May, 2012; a collaborative effort by the City of Fresno, PG&E,  Wesley United Methodist Church, the property owners, and the residents.   This project aligns with the Vibrant Neighborhoods strategic priority set forth in the Vision for Tree Fresno.

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Tree Fresno and FCOE Team Up

In late 2000, the Fresno County Office of Education completed the purchase of Scout Island from the William Whitehurst family. Scout Island Outdoor Education Center is approximately 84 acres of land along the San Joaquin River between San Joaquin County Club on the west and Fig Garden Golf Club on the east. Then Superintendent of Schools Pete Mehas envisioned Scout Island as an outdoor environmental science facility for use by school districts and their students.

In 2001, and continuing into 2002, FCOE, with the assistance of 2M Associates developed a comprehensive site plan for Scout Island. This plan would be used by FCOE in developing the property for educational use and finalizing the infrastructure that is in place now. Included in the master plan was an area set aside for nursery and gardens.

For the next several years the Scout Island Facility was used by an ever increasing number of schools and students for hands on study of the river environment and surroundings. The nursery, however, was not developed. In approximately 2006, at the urging of Fresno County Board of Education member and past Tree Fresno board member Dr. Sally Tannenbaum, the idea of partnering with Tree Fresno in the development of the nursery was introduced. Fresno County Office of Education Senior Administrator Jan Biggs met with the Tree Fresno Board to discuss the idea of a joint project developing a nursery to be used not only for Tree Fresno needs, but also as a learning station whereby students could plant seeds indigenous to the area, nurture them, and watch them grow. These plants, when sufficiently mature, would then be planted along the San Joaquin River and other areas at Scout Island as needed.

This project was approved by the Tree Fresno Board and the Fresno County Board of Education. A Proposition 40 Education Grant was secured through the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to assist with the cost of planning and building the nursery. A nursery project, including a potting shed, was completed in early 2012 and is available for all interested parties.