The same type of stubborn tree that inspired Betty Smith to write "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" has thwarted Boyertown Borough's plans to rejuvenate the forest around Trout Run and Popodickon reservoirs, the community's water supply areas.
Native to China, ailanthus altissima, a species commonly known as the Tree of Heaven, has taken over the forests around the reservoirs. Introduced to North America in the 1700s, the hardy trees, capable of tolerating poor environmental conditions, made their home in cities.
The borough council agreed to take action Monday night, April 3, by hiring Comprehensive Land Services (CLS) of Oxford, PA, to develop a forest stewardship plan for the borough's 500-acre watershed property, located in Earl Township. The cost of the study has been capped at $9,000.
According to council member William Flederbach, who chairs the public utility committee, CLS will examine a sampling of the area to determine what the borough can do about the spreading Tree of Heaven and how help native trees, like oaks, thrive again.
The health of the forest surrounding the borough's reservoirs has a direct impact on the quality of the water, Flederbach said.
According to some Web sites, the roots of ailanthus altissima reportedly give water an unpleasant taste, and all parts of the tree have an odor.
The borough's plans to rejuvenate the forest area started in 1998, according to Borough Manager Patricia Spaide. At that time, numerous trees had suffered storm damage. The borough consulted with Antietam Forestry Consultants to develop a plan to clear out portions of the forest, including the damaged trees, so regeneration would naturally occur.
In subsequent years, the borough exercised "benign neglect," as described by Council President Bart Feroe, to allow the natural rejuvenation of the forest with the young trees on site. However, the infiltration of ailanthus altissima prevented this plan from working.
The fast-quick growing, deciduous, nuisance Tree of Heaven has leaves that look similar to the foliage of sumac or walnut trees. It can reproduce by seed or root system, and the wind easily spreads its seedpods.
The other issue borough officials face is the complaints of the taste of the water from the Popodickon Reservoir. According to Flederbach, Severn Trent, the borough's water management company, has tested the water and it is within safe drinking standards.
Although it is not certain what is causing the bad taste, Flederbach said it seems to get worse when there is an equalization of the sediment from the bottom of the dam as the water temperature increases.
Borough council and Trent are exploring options to solve the taste issue, Spaide said, which may include draining the Popodickon Reservoir to remove the sludge at the bottom. The borough may also consider adding certain chemicals-approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection-to slow the growth of algae.
Contact assistant editor Diane Van Dyke at 610-367-6041, ext. 228 or