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Portland’s history told through its trees
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: August 23, 2017

Portland State researchers have launched a new website that pinpoints trees in Portland and connects them with historic events, family memories, urban legends and more. Anyone can contribute stories on the site at CanopyStory.org.

PSU professors Catherine McNeur and Vivek Shandas say the Canopy Story project could help preserve Portland’s biggest and oldest trees.

“We’re inviting Portlanders to share their memories and experiences of local trees,” said McNeur, an associate professor of environmental history and fellow of PSU's Institute for Sustainable Solutions. “In doing so, they’ll contribute to a public record that demonstrates the value residents place on trees in our city.”

Urban planning professor Vivek Shandas has linked urban trees to health risks during heat waves—areas of cities that have fewer trees are more likely to experience extreme heat fluctuations and pose deadly threats to people who live and work there.

“Trees provide real, tangible benefits for our community,” Shandas said. “Some of those benefits can be measured with numbers and charts, while others are more anecdotal. Canopy Story aims to broaden our understanding of what trees contribute to our urban communities.”

PSU students in McNeur’s history class last spring used modern technology to tell stories about several of Portland’s Heritage Trees—trees that are formally recognized and protected by the city due to their unique size, age or historical or horticultural significance. Once a Heritage Tree is designated, it cannot be removed without the consent of the Urban Forestry Commission and the Portland City Council.

The students produced podcasts about notable trees, planted Geocaches and contributed to CanopyStory.org. Their stories include a 300-year-old Douglas fir saved from destruction with the help of dairy cows, a madrone transplanted from the Olympic Peninsula by a child in 1957 and a white oak that provides wildlife habitat in the Johnson Creek Floodplain.

Contribute your own story at CanopyStory.org.

Photo above: History student Madelyn Miller researched, wrote, and posted several tree stories on Canopy Story.

Canopy Story is supported by PSU's Institute for Sustainable Solutions and the US Forest Service. The website was created by PSU urban planning professor Vivek Shandas with the help of urban studies graduate student Jackson Voelkel, urban planning graduate student Danielle Schulte, PSU alum Travis Hathaway, and history professor Catherine McNeur.