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Urban Forestry

Leadership and Policy 

  • LFUCG’s urban forestry programs are primarily led by the Division of Environmental Services, but they are also served by the collaborative support from the Division of Streets and Roads and the Division of Parks and Recreation. Together, the city and community stakeholders are working on Lexington’s Urban Forestry Management Plan.  Interested stakeholders within the community met throughout 2017 to generate comments and to lay out specific action items for the plan. Both public and private sectors are engaged and optimistic about the possibilities for managing the existing urban forest and expanding the canopy with long-living native and significant tree species. The goal is to provide a legacy for generations to come of the bountiful ecological heritage of the Bluegrass Region.


  • The Lexington Tree Board, established by the city in the late 1970’s, advises appropriate agencies on matters of care, preservation, planting, removal, and replacement of trees in parks, along streets and in public areas.  Lexington has over 53,000 trees in its urban service area, making advocacy for their value and their care of pivotal importance.  The Tree Board has been instrumental in promoting the planting of street trees, trees in public medians and downtown street trees, as well as providing the public with educational brochures on anti-tree topping and the emerald ash borer. It is in the process of revising its street tree ordinance to guide citizens when replacing or planting street trees. Important policies and initiatives recently completed by the Tree Board and implemented by the city include:

    • Land Subdivision Regulations (Division of Building Inspection) require the Planting Manual serve as reference guide for selecting and installing trees and landscaping for all new commercial and residential developments. It prohibits tree topping and requires maintenance of plants and trees in new developments.

    • A Tree Protection Ordinance establishes requirements for minimum tree canopies to help preserve existing trees on development sites.

    • In late 2017, the Bur Oak was named as Lexington's Official Tree.  Community members were  invited to vote from three finalists that thrive in the Bluegrass region. A stunning, 300 year old specimen can be seen along the walking trail at McConnell Springs Park.


  • In 2012, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) commissioned an Urban Tree Canopy Assessment and Planting Plan.  The assessment took place in October 2013, with a supplemental Tree Canopy Report Card being made available to the public in 2015.   This assessment, based on aerial photographs and satellite imagery, was designed to assist LFUCG in managing and growing our urban forest, setting canopy goals, revising policies associated with the canopy, determining and promoting the ecosystem benefits provided, and developing sound urban forest management plans.  Quantifying the benefits allows Lexington to promote the benefits of the urban forest to staff, elected officials, stakeholders, and the public. Much of the work of LFUCG’s Division of Environmental Services comes from the data of this assessment. 


  • Lexington’s Urban Forestry Program continues to expand and improve. In recent years, the city’s Mayor and Urban County Council have supported expansion of the city’s program through additional staff and funding resources. This past year the city has expanded tree services in the Urban Service Area and in the county.  The urban forestry staff managed contractors and in-house staff to provide a courtesy street tree pruning service in areas of town identified as full-service tax districts.  This allowed LFUCG’s solid waste trucks to collect their garbage collection routes without conflicts with low hanging tree branches.  A total of $130,000.00 was spent on this courtesy street tree pruning service in Fiscal Year 2018.  Additional funds of 

  • $95,000.00 in Fiscal Year 2018 were allocated for removing dead/hazardous tree in the right of way easement along county roads.  This funding has allowed the program to manage and remove many of the ash trees impacted by Emerald Ash Borer.  Other expanded services include the creation of a City Arborist position and the addition of two new municipal arborists. 

  • The Urban Forest Initiative (UFI) is a working group of campus and community representatives from local organizations, non-profits, and governmental agencies (LFUCG, KDF, USFS). Based at the University of Kentucky, its mission is to promote the health and sustainability of our urban and community forests by providing strives to do so through, including speaker and film series, neighborhood tree workshops, train-the-trainer programs, and service-learning projects both on UK’s campus and in surrounding communities. Several distinct projects relate to an Urban Forestry Certificate, Tree Campus USA, Adopt-a-Tree Program, Educations and Outreach and a Visiting Speaker Series.  

  • This year, UFI will be working with the LFUCG Division of Environmental Services to begin updating an urban tree inventory, specifically with park, median, and street trees in Lexington neighborhoods.  This pilot program, which is in-part driven by participating UK students, is intended to become an on-going program that will supplement existing tree canopy data as the Lexington landscape changes over time.

  • Healthy Trees – Healthy People - In 2017, UK faculty kicked off a unique tree health assessment program titled “Healthy Trees-Healthy People.” This project gets participants out into Lexington parks to walk and assess the health of selected trees, specifically looking for signs of common pests such as EAB and gypsy moth. During the study, they complete a daily log of their physical activity and tree health observations on designated trails. Depending on the park, routes are just under a half-mile and a mile.  This pilot program has begun recruiting for its second round, which is taking place during the summer of 2018.  The ultimate goal of the program is, not only to promote healthy lifestyles, but also to eradicate “tree blindness” of park visitors and inspire them to actively contribute as citizen scientists.

  • Tree Campus USA - Both the University of Kentucky and Bluegrass Community and Technical College are recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as having official Tree Campus USA status.  This status is awarded based on the following five standards:

    • Establishment of a Campus Tree Advisory Committee

    • Development of a Campus Tree Care Plan

    • Designation of a Campus Tree Program with Dedicated Annual Expenditures

    • Sponsoring an Arbor Day Observance

    • Executing a Service Learning Project

  • This year, the University of Kentucky increased their staff of arborists and created a new Arboriculture Superintendent position.  This team, in partnership with university students, staff, and faculty, plants between 75 and 100 trees annually on campus. 

  • Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) has incorporated urban forestry efforts on multiple BCTC campuses throughout Lexington. Some of the most notable of their service projects include Peal Meal Gardens (Leestown Campus) and the Pleasure Grounds Trail (Newtown Campus), which involves students from both UK and BCTC in tree planting efforts, tree maintenances, and native landscaping.

  • The Fayette County Public School Adopt-A-Tree Program is a partnership with the University of Kentucky Urban Forest Initiative that allows students to learn about and quantify the ecological, economic, biological, water quality, human health and aesthetic benefits of trees and choose their favorite campus tree to adopt.  Schools also apply their Go Green + Earn Green reward funds towards the purchase, planting and maintenance of new trees with the goal of improving our campus tree canopy by 5% in 5 years.

  • Annual government funding programs for planting trees include the Community Development Neighborhood Action Match Grant, Neighborhood Sustainability Grant, Water Quality Incentive Grant Program, Corridors Commission general budget, Environmental Services Reforest the Bluegrass general budget, Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission donations and grants, Reforest the Bluegrass donations, and the Memorial Tree Fund.


  • The roots of Lexington’s urban forestry efforts were established in the mid-1800s with the design of the Lexington Cemetery. This design intentionally incorporated canopy cover, which paved the way for the Lexington Cemetery to be recognized as one of America’s notable arboreta cemeteries. 

  • Annual corporate sponsorships for tree planting in Lexington are provided by Lexmark International, Kentucky American Water, Kentucky Utilities, Paul Miller Ford Auto Group, Sekisui, Big Beaver Tree Service, and Baker Recycling


  • Ashland Park, a historic early 20th century residential neighborhood built around Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, has beautiful, large shade trees along the streets and within street medians. It was planned and designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architecture Firm.​

Community Involvement

  • Tree City USA - Lexington has celebrated its 30th consecutive year as a Tree City USA, the first city in Kentucky to gain this status. The Kentucky Division of Forestry held the state’s celebration of Arbor Day in conjunction with Lexington’s Arbor Day Celebration to acknowledge the city’s 30th year of being a Tree City USA and for Lexington receiving its first Growth Award.  The initial Arbor Day celebration was held in 1984 and since then it has become an annual event held at The Arboretum, complete with educational exhibits and demonstrations.

  • Trees Lexington! - In 2015, Lexington formed a Tree Canopy Committee, which set out to evaluate the current state of Lexington’s urban tree canopy and to strategize ways of encouraging the management and expansion of trees onto private land.  Private land was specifically targeted, as the UTC assessment revealed that 84% of the city’s plantable area within the urban service boundary fell into that category.  The committee, which consisted of community leaders, LFUCG representatives, non-profit organizations, arborists, university representatives, and general citizens, successfully outlined a set of goals that would enhance new and existing urban forestry efforts in Lexington.  These included the increased coordination of community and municipal urban forestry efforts, the review and revision of city tree-related ordinances for the protections and preservation of the existing tree canopy, and the creation of strategies to expand the urban tree canopy within the urban service boundary.  In 2016, the Tree Canopy Committee evolved into a non-profit organization, Trees Lexington!  This organization is led by a passionate, active executive board whose primary mission is to spearhead the success of the existing urban forestry goals in Lexington and to pioneer new initiatives that will elevate the city’s tree canopy and unify the community over its shared value.  Trees Lexington! is currently building partnerships with Lexington neighborhoods, Fayette County Public Schools, and other community groups with an interest in growing the presence of urban trees on their associated landscapes.

  • The Champion Tree Program recognizes and celebrates the largest trees in Fayette County. A new Historic Tree recognition program is currently being developed.


Volunteers plant thousands of trees during the annual Reforest the Bluegrass.

  • Reforest the Bluegrass is a 20 year initiative of urban county government implemented primarily by community volunteers who have planted tens of thousands of tree seedlings to reforest parklands and riparian areas along streams. In 2019, 1000 volunteers planted 7000 seedlings.

  • Castlewood Park Orchard - The North Limestone Community Development Corporation is supporting Seedleaf to care for an orchard of 20 fruit-bearing trees: serviceberries, Asian pears, cherries and persimmons in an effort to make fresh fruit available to neighborhood residents in this “food desert.”

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