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Despite what she sees as city indifference, Taren LaGamba continues her battle to save and improve Lockport's trees.

LaGamba, 53, a certified master gardener, has volunteered her cleanup and beautification services in most of the city's parks over the years. Her baby is the tree garden at John Henry Park on Prospect Street, one acre of about 100 different species of trees, many with informative signs.

The city does not fund the park, so LaGamba tries to keep it going by seeking grants and offering her $35 Adopt-a-Tree program. The park was donated by the Henry family, and most of it is given over to small plots of plowed land available for rent to city residents who want to have a garden but lack space at home.

Unfortunately, one of LaGamba's frequent projects is trying to repair vandalism to the trees and signs in the tree garden, separated by a none-too-sturdy fence from the campus of North Park Middle School, whose students she blames for most of the damage. Some of the maintenance and cleanup work is done by petty offenders sentenced in City Court to community service work.

LaGamba's regular job is as head gardener for the Kenan Center. In an interview at John Henry Park, she told The News about her activities on behalf of Lockport's trees.

Where did you get your gardening training?

My two aunts were gardeners, and I helped them out. Later in life, I went to attend the classes for master gardener training and master forester training (offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension in 1996 and 1997).

Do you think the city does a good enough job keeping up its trees?

Well, the problem is, the city has 77,000 trees and approximately $375,000, which is about $3.25 per tree. It's not unusual these days for small cities to have problems funding forestry. You would need a budget of $12 a tree, or about $800,000, for the city. With the amount of money that they have, they're permanently and forever stuck in emergency mode. When you have that kind of money, the only thing you can do realistically is take down the largest of the dead trees and take down large dead branches.

When did this tree park begin at John Henry?

The tree garden in the park started in 1993. We used a small grant from McDonald's to start the tree garden. It was supposed to be an opportunity for the youth of the community to come and learn about trees, wildlife. Currently, there's 100 different species of trees.

Tell me about the Adopt-a-Tree program.

It started a few years ago; $35 is the fee and you'll get an official certificate and you'll get a little tag put on the tree sign that's in front of the tree that you adopt. That is your tree for the year. The proceeds go into funding future development of the park. This park is an unfunded park, so there's no money in the (city) budget to do anything here.

What's the most common tree in the City of Lockport?

Norway maples. There's some lindens, a few other kinds of maples, hybrid maples. There's a few larches, a few flowering pears. Are people interested in trees?

Generally when a person has a connection with a tree, it's something from their childhood and they have this emotional connection with this tree. Doing that takes time and you always have to let that time pass before that connection happens, and nobody wants to wait. It takes forever to grow a big tree.


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