Grassroots oaks on the avenue
Lined with historic homes and traversed by a landmark streetcar route, St. Charles Avenue plays an important role in the identity of New Orleans. Yet Uptown resident Ted Le Clercq was dismayed to find that after Hurricane Katrina one of the avenue’s prime assets wasn’t looking its best. Many of the distinctive live oaks lining St. Charles Avenue had been severely damaged by storm winds or had succumbed to disease, leaving blanks in the lush landscape of the avenue.
“St. Charles Avenue and its oaks are iconic symbols of New Orleans, it’s where we send visitors when they come to town and where we go for Mardi Gras (parades),” says Le Clercq, an attorney with local firm Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles. “It should represent us as the best we can be as New Orleanians.”
So, with encouragement from his wife Courtney, Le Clercq launched the St. Charles Avenue Oak Project, a grassroots, privately funded initiative to replant the veritable linear forest of oaks along the avenue.
“Ted is making a difference for his neighborhood and the whole city,” says Ron Forman, president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute, which supports the project. “By planting new trees on one of our city’s most historic streets, Ted is showing us all what can be done when one individual makes up his mind to take action.”
Le Clercq first secured approval from the city’s Parks & Parkway Commission and then hit the streets to seek permission from adjacent property owners. He also began a fundraising campaign from individual contributors and corporate underwriters, which initially brought in some $159,000. This was enough to plant the first 130 oaks along one section of St. Charles Avenue stretching from Lee Circle to Jackson Avenue. Bayou Tree Service conducted the planting work.
Le Clercq says he soon found himself expanding the project to replace damaged or missing trees along the avenue all the way up to its terminus in the Riverbend. The program marked its 250th tree planted on the fifth anniversary of Katrina this summer, and it continues to roll along with a planned 275 trees total.
“Somebody did this for us 120 or 130 years ago,” says Le Clercq. “This isn’t for us now, although we can certainly enjoy it. It’s for our kids and grandkids.”
Le Clercq is still collecting tax-deductible contributions for the project’s final push. To contribute, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.