Feb. 18 marked a giant step in Galveston’s recovery from Hurricane Ike. The final oak was planted in the restoration of the Historic Broadway Esplanades. Disappearing is the memory of forlorn, leafless trees on that roadway, and the emptiness when they came down. Even the image of treeless medians is fading now that the oaks and palms are back.
This mammoth project — 250 oaks and 60 palms — took only two months from the first oak planted to this last one, although it took seven long years to get here. This success story for Galveston involved many small steps, and finally this great big one on Broadway. The story involves incredible support from hundreds of residents of the island and beyond.
Those who were here during and after Ike probably shared my sense of loss and even despair. Dead trees added insult to the injury of the widespread devastation of manmade structures. Emergency funding was available to remove those trees, but not to replace them. Many of us cried as trees were downed. I know I did.
Recovery efforts began in early 2009 when Dr. Jackie Cole convened a group of residents not just to grieve the tree loss, but to plan for tree replacement — and not just for Broadway but for the entire island. This group formed the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. The city established a standing Tree Committee. Texas Forest Service assigned two staff members full-time to Galveston to assist, and funded arborist Priscilla Files for a year. She has remained as conservancy staff member and workhorse, supported by funds cobbled together from multiple sources.
Volunteers assisted in every step in the recovery. It took expertise, patience, and time to identify trees which might be saved rather than removed. To conserve what was salvageable, stumps became the unique tree sculptures we enjoy today. Huge oaks went to the Mystic Connecticut Seaport, for use in restoring their historic wooden ships. Wood-turners and craftspeople used “Ike wood” for artistic projects.
These made us feel better but did not get trees into the ground. But the process was underway.
Tree giveaways began in 2009, staffed by dozens of volunteers, and over the years these have provided 11,660 trees for residential gardens. “NeighborWoods” projects from 2010 to the present have added 1,900 streetside trees to 20 neighborhoods. These are funded by grants, planted by volunteers, and cared for by residents. Eleven public parks and two schools have received over 400 trees. Twelve “demonstration” Broadway medians were completed and the successful restoration of those blocks provided an image of how Broadway could look once again.
Financial support for these activities came from many sources, too many to name here. Hundreds of organizations and private citizens donated funds as well as thousands of work hours. Major funders included the city of Galveston, John P. McGovern Foundation, Kempner Fund and Kempner Family, Apache Energy, Tom’s of Maine, Moody Foundation, Hollomon-Price Foundation, Galveston Foundation, and McCoys. Apologies for any omissions.
The dream of Broadway’s restoration finally came together in 2015 when city council approved using surplus Hotel Occupancy Tax funds to complete it. This historic entryway to Galveston was seen as an eligible tourism-related project as required for use of those funds. From funding to completion this project took less than one year.
So this giant step — the last oak planted in Broadway’s restoration — symbolizes the culmination of years of work by hundreds of people. And Galveston’s not done. We want to replace all the 40,000 lost trees. The next NeighborWoods will be April 2, and you’ll be seeing 300 new ones.