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How to Leave Your Heart in Webster’s Forests

By John Addyman

ReTree Webster is a new group battling insect pests, disease and invasive plants, in search of protecting Rochester’s forests.

You’re thinking that you’d like to do something new, now that you have a little more time.

But what?

Norma Platt and John Boettcher have something you’ll like.

Wait — you have quite a checklist.

You’d like to get out a little more, right?

Check. Their idea fulfills that in spades.

Fresh air. That would be nice.

Check. A lot of that.

Doing something with your hands.

Check. That, too.

Being with other sociable people.

Check. Groups as small as two and as large as 20 or so.

Something that requires that you use your brain.

Check. Research is part of what Platt and Boettcher do.

Doing something that has a lasting value that other people will benefit from and enjoy long after you’re gone.

Check. You can leave behind a living legacy.

So what is it?

Platt and Boettcher, two retired Kodak chemists have been married for 36 years, lead a spinoff from the Friends of Webster Trails board — ReTree Webster — that is just starting its second year.

“We were talking about what we wanted to do,” explained Platt.

“The Friends of Webster Trails has open space that is under threats from different things — insect pests and disease and invasive plants,” said Boettcher. “One of the first things we did was survey the lands we have for the kind of trees we have there and the desirable ones we might lose. We should be doing something about the loss of those trees, and replacing them.”

Calling for volunteers to help assess the situation and decide what to do, Platt and Boettcher got five more people to join what would become a merry band: a naturalist, a former schoolteacher and administrator, a retired nurse, a facilitator, and a gardener.

“This is really our first season,” explained Platt. “We’ve spent a lot of time planning. We did surveys of all the open areas. We had a lot of meetings. We visited Jim Engel of White Oak Nursery in Canandaigua, who was very generous with his time and advice. He has done what we’re trying to do.”

John Boettcher and one of the native-tree seedlings ReTree Webster is growing in a special plant nursery.

Engel showed the ReTree Webster people how he clears an area of invasive species and brings the land back to its native flora. And he showed them his nurseryman techniques for raising a stock of native plants and trees.

What followed was the establishment of a nursery on the town of Webster’s park and recreation grounds on Route 250, where ReTree is raising American swamp white oak, chokecherry, American sycamore, sweetgum, ninebark, spicebush, red pine and more – all native plants.

“Our area is overgrown with invasive plants,” Platt said. “Do we want to remediate that and try to reclaim the natural habitat? Hemlocks, oak trees, beeches are all being infected with disease and insects. We wanted to find other species that are less susceptible to problems and increase the diversity.

“What difference can we make?” she wondered out loud.

“If not us, who?” asked Boettcher. “We appreciate what we have here. There are times when we regard ourselves as being very fortunate to live in a community like Webster that has what it has. We feel like we have to help the situation, help preserve it or make it better.

“If I do the right thing, it probably won’t make a huge difference in the world, but I’ll know I did the right thing. I feel like we’re very fortunate to belong to this volunteer organization, it is a vehicle, an outlet.”

The couple said Webster’s Gosnell Big Woods preserve contains trees that were saplings when the five nations of the Iroquois walked the land 400 years ago.

“This is what we’d like to see all our sites look like,” said Boettcher.

For the moment, the meetings of ReTree Webster are by Zoom, but Platt said when she gets the word out about a working party to clear weeds and invasives growth, people show up. “I’ve got 30 people on my distribution list and when I ask for help, two to 20 people show up. It’s a pleasant way to spend a day,” she added “A joy. A light exercise in the company of other like-minded people.”

Platt made it clear that ReTree Webster is just getting started.

“We’re not 100% sure what we’re doing will be successful – this is a trial balloon,” she said. “My biggest concern is about when I can’t do this anymore. We need younger people with a fire in their belly to do it: they’ll get to know they’re doing the right thing. The planet is in trouble.”

The change Platt and Boettcher hope to make, as others pick up the work, is a legacy to Webster, they know.

“In terms of leaving something behind, if it’s going to be this kind of legacy,” said Boettcher, “I’m going to carry that. Other people won’t know that I did it, but I will. It’s personal. We’re not doing this for recognition.

“Look at all the opportunities for someone in what we’re doing. They’ll learn something about horticulture, what plants grow in this area, and the threats to those plants. There’s a lot of library work and research in what we do, learning new things. Then there’s the physical aspect of things. We’ll get people outside more often.”

Platt said she hopes the message of ReTree Webster can expand to scout groups and schools, to help build a generation that will steward the land here.

If you’re interested in checking out ReTree Webster for yourself, Platt urges you to go to the Friends of Webster Trails website (www.webstertrails.org).

“There’s a ‘contact us’ link on there that comes directly to me,” Platt said. “We’ll see what you’re interested in doing and get you involved.

“We’re also looking for money. We have our little nursery trees. We’ll also have a specimen plot where we buy bigger trees and get them out so people can see progress right away, as a kind of advertising.”

The work is there. The need is there. And ReTree Webster is gearing up to make a difference.

Platt and Boettcher know there are interested people out there who just need a nudge.

“The planet is in trouble,”
Platt said.