Award is a crowning achievement for local arborist

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 22, 2021

 Certified arborist Brian Colter — the forester for Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park — stands near the largest ash tree still standing on Grosse Pointe City property, a white ash believed to date back to about 1880.

Certified arborist Brian Colter — the forester for Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park — stands near the largest ash tree still standing on Grosse Pointe City property, a white ash believed to date back to about 1880.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE CITY/PARK — As a certified arborist who serves as the forester for Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park, Brian Colter spends his working hours monitoring, caring for and researching trees.

But even when he’s not on the clock, Colter remains active in the world of arboriculture, volunteering on several boards and commissions, giving presentations, writing articles, guiding tree tours and educating the public about tree diseases and other tree topics. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colter has been recognized for his contributions to the field.

On Feb. 12 during a virtual arbor conference, the International Society of Arboriculture Michigan presented Colter with its Honors Award, which acknowledges his “dedicated, faithful and honorable service to arboriculture and urban forestry.” As Grosse Pointe Park City Councilman Vikas Relan said during a March 9 meeting by Zoom, the award is essentially for arborist of the year.

“It’s (their) highest award, basically,” Colter said. “I didn’t expect it.”

Colter said he’s been the Park’s forester for 27 years and has been working in that capacity for the City since January 2017. For the last 25 years, Colter has been the Park’s staff liaison to the Beautification Commission, where he’s involved in projects such as the city’s beloved annual Arbor Week poster contest and celebrations.

Colter volunteers for and is on the board of Keep Michigan Beautiful — the state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful — and is a member of the Beautification Council of Southeastern Michigan and the Grosse Pointe Men’s and Women’s garden clubs. He became a charter member of the Arboriculture Society of Michigan Foundation in 2015 and chairs its Historical Society. As part of his work with that organization, Colter and his fellow volunteers are working to restore the shuttered and battered sawmill on Belle Isle, with the hopes of turning it into a working mill and museum.

“Brian is one of the most versatile professionals that I’ve ever known,” said Grosse Pointe Park Beautification Commission Vice Chair Lisa Kyle, who serves with Colter on the Arboriculture Society of Michigan Foundation Board. One minute, she said Colter can be wielding a chainsaw and the next, he’s researching a complex environmental issue.

About 25 years ago — long before others were finding uses for dead and removed trees — Kyle said Colter launched a wood recycling program at Windmill Pointe Park where those trees are chipped and turned into free mulch for residents to pick up and use in their landscaping. Kyle said the program is so popular, residents rush to the park to claim the mulch before it’s all gone.

When the Park had to cut down most of its ash trees during the height of the emerald ash borer invasion, Colter milled the ash wood to create park benches and hardwood floors in recreational facilities.

“He’s just a lover of trees and a lover of the environment,” Kyle said.

Although many of the ash trees in Grosse Pointe Park and City are now gone, one significant ash tree remains in the City’s Neff Park, thanks to careful maintenance to protect it from the bug. The white ash tree is the largest one still standing on City property, Colter said. City Gardener Rodney Girolami estimates that the massive tree dates back to about 1880. That means it predates Grosse Pointe City, which was reincorporated from the Village of Grosse Pointe to the City of Grosse Pointe in 1934.

“The white ash were more resilient (than the green ash trees),” Colter said.

Colter helped Grosse Pointe City achieve a rare milestone this year — being named a Sterling Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. Grosse Pointe Park reached this milestone in 2008, and now the City joins the Park as one of only seven communities in Michigan to earn this honor. It’s given for 10 years or more of growth awards from the Arbor Day Foundation, which Colter said means that a municipality has gone above and beyond even the standards for being a Tree City USA. The City is celebrating its 35th year as a Tree City USA, while the Park is marking its 38th year as a Tree City USA, Colter said.

Other officials are also praising Colter for his work and commitment to arboriculture.

Relan — who serves as the council liaison to the Beautification Commission — said Colter’s Honors Award was “fantastic and well deserved.”

This year, Michigan officially celebrates Arbor Day on April 30.

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