Graced with an Asia garden, a rose garden, a spring-fed lake, and hundreds of trees—including 55 labeled species—Furman University’s 750-acre campus is justly lauded for its beauty. Of all the flora on campus, though, it’s the trees that inspire Kylie Stackis ’14, a sustainability science major and the program director at Trees Greenville, a nonprofit organization established to plant, promote and protect trees in Greenville County. She sees trees as part of the solution to global warming and rising carbon emissions. “It inspires me that people can make a difference in the environment by just doing something as simple as planting a tree,” she says.
Stackis’s foray into urban forestry began during her junior year, when she was chosen as the Campus Landscape Fellow at Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability. In that role, she coordinated the Campus Trees Committee, a collaboration between the Shi Center, the biology faculty who study trees, the campus grounds staff, and community partner Trees Greenville.
“My favorite thing to do was to plan Arbor Day,” Stackis recalls. “To be certified as a Tree Campus USA, we had to have an educational event and a volunteer event. So we accomplished that through a celebration of Arbor Day. In 2013 we had 50 students come out and we planted 23 trees, which is something that I hope will impact the campus for a long time.” That was also the event where she met Joelle Teachey, executive director of Trees Greenville, with whom Stackis now works.
As an undergrad, Stackis collaborated with biology professor Joseph Pollard, Ph.D., on labeling trees on campus, and she credits Dr. Pollard with stoking her interest in trees. “In April, Dr. Pollard and I did a tree ID walk on campus,” she reports. “He led a marvelous walk and we checked out our arboretum trees.” Tree ID walks, which are open to the public, are one of the new programs Stackis has initiated at Trees Greenville.
One of the most significant things Stackis accomplished during her fellowship was taking the lead in having Furman’s campus designated as an arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboreta. The Register is a comprehensive database of arboreta and public gardens that collect and display trees, shrubs, and other woody plants for the benefit of the public, science, and conservation. “Designation as an arboretum offers Furman both recognition and accountability for the university’s commitment to responsible forestry and urban forestry practices,” says Yancey Fouché, director of Sustainability Integration at the Shi Center. “It shows that we give priority to our trees,” Stackis adds. “Trees provide a critical role to campus sustainability and aesthetics.”
After graduating from Furman, Stackis branched out to take internships with Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Navy before moving to Pennsylvania to do a fellowship with Tree Pittsburgh. In January of this year, she moved back to the Upstate to start her new job with Trees Greenville.
In addition to overseeing volunteers and planning events, Stackis has developed several new programs, notably Tree Keepers and Tree Care workshops. The former is a five-week course that focuses on tree biology, threats, urban stressors, and diseases. The program, which will train volunteers to prune and maintain trees, will launch this September. A similar course will be offered to landscape professionals.
For the Tree Care workshops, she contacted all the schools in Greenville County where Trees Greenville has planted trees. “Operating with limited resources, schools struggle with being able to care for these young trees,” Stackis says, “so if they sign up, Trees Greenville volunteers will come out on a Wednesday morning to do tree pruning.” The goal is two-fold: to provide the technical support that the schools need, and to teach professional pruning skills to anyone who is interested.
This summer, Stackis has the pleasure of working with another Furman fellow, Anna Peterson at Trees Greenville. “Anna is doing GIS [Geographic Information Systems] mapping for us, and a complete inventory of all the trees that we’ve planted,” Stackis reports. “It’s really interesting that I started out as a Furman fellow and now I am managing one.” For this budding forester, things have come full circle.
Learn more about Sustainability Science at Furman and the Shi Center for Sustainability.