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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thanks to its tree man, Lancaster has it made in the shade

Mark Lubera spreads love of trees throughout town

They call Mark Lubera the “Johnny Appleseed” of Lancaster — a big, burly man with a friendly face credited with planting more than 15,000 trees in the past 15 years.

“It’s a team effort — from the Town Council on down,” Lubera said modestly, shifting just a tad uneasily in his chair during a recent interview with The Buffalo News.

“I just do what I do. It isn’t anything special.”

Many in town would beg to differ, especially as the second anniversary of the devastating October 2006 snowstorm approaches.

“We couldn’t have survived the October storm without him — period,” said his boss, Terrence McCracken, Parks, Recreation & Forestry crew chief.

Lubera grew up on a farm in the Catskills, wandering its forests for entertainment as a boy and laying the foundation for a lifelong love affair with trees and the soil.

Equal parts tree doctor and small-town diplomat, he’s saved plenty of mature trees and soothed many homeowners’ concerns in the 40-square-mile municipality he’s called home since 1994.

Recently the Depew Union Free School District called on Lubera to help save the life of a more than 100-year-old red oak tree that school officials fretted would not survive a recent round of summertime construction projects at the high school.

“It broke my heart to think we might lose that tree,” said Depew Superintendent Kimberly A. Mueller, who remembered Lubera’s talents from his annual Arbor Day talks and tree-planting sessions with Lancaster schoolchildren when Mueller served as principal at Hillview Elementary School.

Anxious school officials heaved a sigh of relief after Lubera arrived on the Depew High School campus, checked the red oak over and pronounced the patient one of the better specimen trees he’d ever seen in Western New York.

Then Lubera trimmed about 20 percent of the aged tree’s branches that had sustained some storm damage, advised deep feeding for its roots and was on his way.

Lubera rolled into Lancaster to put down his own roots in 1981 along with his wife, two children and a dependable old Volkswagen bug trailing behind a U-Haul truck.

For 13 years, he worked on trees all over Western New York as an employee of Davey Tree and Lawn Care — the company he credits with training him in all the nuances of tree care and maintenance. He had a degree in natural resources conservation to help him along, too.

In 1994 he was hired by the Town of Lancaster.

Lubera remembers vividly driving around Lancaster in the fall of 2006 — two weeks before the October storm — and looking at the fruit of his 12 years of labor on the town’s tree population.

“I said to myself: ‘Man, we’ve got this licked. We’re looking really tight . . . I’m going to be able to retire in eight years, and this place is gonna look great.’ ”

Overnight on Oct. 13, 2006, it all changed.

Lubera says he’s still taking down trees affected by the storm, but he and partner Matt Perillo and a crew of forestry workers expect to have all the damaged ones replaced by 2009.

Lancaster, which is celebrating its 10th year as a “Tree City” recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation, is expected to continue its aggressive tree planting and care program that Lubera says was initiated by late longtime town Council Member Artel Metz in the early 1960s.

These days the town also gets an assist from Re-Tree Western New York, a nonprofit group that continues to counter the damage from the October surprise storm. Last spring, with the help of Re-Tree volunteers, Lancaster was able to plant double, offset rings of Japanese lilac and flowering pear trees in Westwood Park.

“They look beautiful,” said Lubera, musing on the benefits of last summer’s rains for the fledgling trees. “Where we once had barren ground, we’re going to have people sitting under flowering trees every spring.”

Article here
The painting is by Nancy Merkle

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