Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Jon Hathaway will lead the university’s team, which also includes Assistant Professor of Social Work Jennifer First and Professor of Urban Forestry Sharon Jean-Philippe.
While the trees are a major part of the plan, Hathaway said, the overall aim will help fulfill UT’s land-grant mission by focusing on several areas, including benefiting underserved communities in East Knoxville.
He added, “Our plan to install gravel tree stormwater systems and provide accompanying public education and workforce development has significant implications for climate resilience by providing shading, evaporative cooling and extreme precipitation mitigation; for workforce development by providing internships in the forestry profession and building a group of certified professionals in green infrastructure maintenance; and for increasing public participation in urban forestry to build the next generation of diverse leadership in this field.”
Kincannon said the IRA grant funding comes at a most strategically opportune time.
The City’s Urban Forestry Division oversaw a first-ever comprehensive canopy assessment in 2021. That study documented more than 24,000 acres of tree cover in Knoxville — or 38 percent of the total land area. However, the canopy decreased by 732 acres over a decade, mostly on private property.
The canopy assessment led to the City and Trees Knoxville, with immense public input, developing a Knoxville Urban Forest Master Plan, a long-term roadmap of what trees to plant where. Trees Knoxville and the City share a goal of increasing tree cover to 40 percent.
While the City generally plants up to 500 trees a year, the IRA funds to Trees Knoxville will pay for three times as many plantings.
“The Master Plan is community-driven,” said Trees Knoxville Chair Dale Madden, “It will better human health, create more access to green space, and improve our quality of life. This federal funding is a springboard for us to launch the implementation of the plan.
“What we do in these next five years will be critically important to the future of Knoxville for many years to come.”
The IRA grant to Trees Knoxville will fund the purchase, plantings and care for 1,000 trees on public property each year for five years, plus a giveaway of 500 trees a year for residential plantings. Trees Knoxville also will offer free public tree-care educational events.
Additionally, funds to Trees Knoxville will be used to help educate and recruit a landscaping workforce with better knowledge and understanding of proper tree care, such as best planting and pruning practices.
Funds also are earmarked for invasive species control and for preservation of older trees on school grounds.
UT’s grant, meanwhile, will complement the work of Trees Knoxville and the City.
One of the first gravel tree stormwater systems was installed in East Knoxville in a collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service, UT and the City’s Urban Forestry Division.
“Observation of the system showed it was well-functioning, and tree growth and health in the system were excellent,” Hathaway said. “Due to the low cost and benefits provided by these systems, GTSS may be an integral part of climate resilience in communities, in particular those that are economically disadvantaged.”