GPS technology zooms in on Tower Grove Park trees

GPS technology zooms in on Tower Grove Park trees

ST. LOUIS – A couple walks hand-in-hand through Tower Grove Park and observes all the greenery.

“Look at all the pretty trees,” one says to the other.

Andy Berg walks through Tower Grove Park and sees thousands of old friends – 6,836 to be exact – by a recent count. Using a GPS-enabled map, he knows generally how old each is, along with its general state of health.

Berg isn’t just any lover of the park, but its forestry supervisor. With a staff of two, and the latest satellite technology, he can manage the park’s trees with a care that earlier keepers of the trees never could imagine. With his GPS-enabled map, he keeps track of each tree.

Altogether, there are 317 different types of trees, such as sourwood, rock elm and hardy rubber tree.

“In most city parks, you’re not going to find the diversity and the standards of care that we have,” Berg said.

Berg keeps track of all of his trees by using a high-tech map that spots them from the sky. But first, he or one of his workers had to inspect each of them. Then the location of each tree is marked on a GPS map, managed by Geographic Information System software.

With a click of his mouse, Berg can find a long list of information on individual trees including botanical names, family, the tree’s diameter and a rating of its condition. It also will give recommendations for its maintenance, such as whether to control pests or even to remove it.

When Berg and his workers made an initial count in 2016, a number commonly given for the number of trees in the park was 7,500. They actually found there were about 6,700. As more trees were planted than were cut down, it grew by about 130.

Before the 2016 count, trees were spotted on aerial maps, but they were much less efficient.

Berg uses the most up-to-date methods. But he works in the spirit of Henry Shaw.

Shaw founded the park in 1868, after he started the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden. When he started, the 289-acre park was a prairie with just a handful of trees. Using a map that approximated the features of the current park, he designated where the species and the individual trees should go.

“I know he tried a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff failed,” Berg said. Some of the trees were from overseas.

But enough of Shaw’s trees succeeded for an author to write this about them 15 years after the park was founded:

“The remarkable variety in foliage at Tower Grove Park and which forms its chief beauty rises from the fact that the planting included nearly every kind of evergreen and deciduous tree and shrub which experience has shown to be adapted to our soil and climate.”

That evaluation appeared in David H. MacAdam’s 1883 book, “Tower Grove Park of the City of St. Louis.” MacAdam wrote that Shaw received donations of nearly 10,000 trees, including sycamores, ash and elm, poplar, sweet gum and scarlet oaks. Some came from exotic places, such as India, Scotland, South America, Australia and Southern Africa.

Only a handful of those original trees survive. One of those, an Osage orange tree just west of the pavilion where the Compton Heights Band performs, probably predates Shaw, Berg said. People also can identify it by the way the tree hangs sharply forward. Another tree, a swamp privet, was named a state champion big shrub because of its size.

It’s awesome, but what’s really awesome is that you can spot any of the park’s trees and discover details about it by going to https://www.towergroveparkmap.org. It’s also possible to have close-up views of the pavilions, picnic sites, rest rooms and drinking fountains in the park.

After zooming in, the intrepid Tower Grove Park tree hugger can right-click on a dot for a certain tree and get neat details about the type of tree.

All that’s possible with technology from space. It’s the kind of thing Shaw would have employed, had it been available 150 years ago.