More than 50 years ago, Durham’s residents undertook the massive project to line their neighborhood streets with young oak trees — the ones that today form the majestic canopy towering over the neighborhoods that surround Duke’s campus.
One of those communities is Tuscaloosa-Lakewood, where the active neighborhood association known for its zoning battles and its voice in issues of public concern has taken up a new cause: the preservation of the canopy.
“The trees we currently enjoy were planted with the future in mind,” said Myers Sugg, the neighborhood association board member who’s spearheading the project. “The trees we plant might not be mature for us to enjoy, but we’ve benefited from the forethought of others and it’s our job to do the same.”
Sugg’s efforts began when a contractor for the local energy company pruned the trees around power lines in a way that damaged the already aging oaks. The neighborhood’s first reaction was one of outrage, and then Sugg invited residents to gather on his front porch and hear from a representative from Durham City Government’s Urban Forestry division.
“We probably had 18 to 20 neighbors listen to get the story of what happened, why it had happened, what options we had, and basically what we could do,” Sugg said. “It was decided that we would take on a tree planting project in conjunction with Urban Forestry.”
Under the plan, existing oak trees will remain standing for as long as possible, and younger trees will be planted underneath to prevent gaping holes when the old oaks begin to die. Through the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood listserv and word of mouth, Sugg accepted tree orders from his neighbors and then from Lakewood Park residents, as their community association became a partner in the effort. The cost of the trees purchased was shared between individual homeowners and the city.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership with the City of Durham,” Sugg said, praising the dedication of Urban Forestry Manager Alex Johnson.
Working with Durham officials is nothing new to Tuscaloosa-Lakewood residents. They petition the city and county governments in support of causes such as upholding the Durham billboard ban, and they work continuously to maintain the zoning standards established in their Neighborhood Protection Overlay.
The overlay itself is the product of a long pitch by neighborhood residents to maintain the character of Tuscaloosa-Lakewood, which is home to not only a diverse population but also diverse zoning: Tuscaloosa-Lakewood has commercial districts, mixed-use property and even Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, in addition to the single- and multi-family housing.
Neighborhood residents are also active parts of the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project, facilitated by Duke Senior Neighborhood Partnership Coordinator Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, and of Partners Against Crime District 3.
“All of us work well together and are enthusiastic about what we have on our plates,” said Tuscaloosa-Lakewood Neighborhood Association President Frances Kerr, at the association’s February 23 dinner meeting with Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs.
Kerr said the next steps for the neighborhood, besides updating its bylaws, will be a spring block party, a summer National Night Out, and a fall picnic.
In the meantime, look out for the neighborhood’s newest additions: Young maples, cherries, elms, oaks and more will appear along its streets in the next couple of weeks.