Elms of Honor: Replanting the PPG’s Historic Treeline (Part 2)

In 2005, the Packard Proving Grounds was in the market for some shade.

The PPG originally featured a spread of elm trees that were planted during the site’s most active years, when vehicles were being tested and engineered on the property. But by the early 2000s, those historic plants had disappeared. Dutch elm disease swept across the state, and the PPG’s elms were among the numerous trees affected. But the dedicated trustees and staff of the PPG didn’t just accept the loss. Instead, they decided to replant a fresh crop of trees to replicate the site’s original design.

Hence, the Elms of Honor program! Each donor provided the full cost of one tree’s installation on-site: the purchase of the tree itself, planting, and a two-year maintenance agreement and warranty to ensure its survival. Since there was so much ground to cover – literally – the final amount of these donations was nearly $40,000. This generous amount purchased the planting and care for enough trees to line and surround the boulevard.

Next, the PPG dug into the research.

In partnership with the National Park Services (NPS), the PPG began to plan repopulating the site with trees. It was vital that the new trees were planted as closely as possible to the original configuration. Aerial photographs taken after World War II were used during the research and consultation phases of the project. Princeton elm trees were selected as the new crop of foliage, for two reasons. First, NPS requirements dictated that the original trees needed to be replaced with a near-to-exact variety of trees; no other species of tree would have fit this standard. Second, Princeton elms are notably resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, the fungal infection that destroyed the initial crop.

Once the trees were purchased and their new homes on-site were mapped, the date for shipping and planting was scheduled. Fittingly, planting took place on April 29th, 2005: National Arbor Day.

Planting was a team effort.

The NPS provided technical assistance in helping the PPG prepare for planting day. The planting itself was facilitated by an independently-contracted landscaping crew, and the multi-step process was an all-day affair. More than eighty Princeton elm saplings – all between fifteen and nineteen feet tall – were delivered to the site by truck. Each tree was individually and carefully unloaded and placed in its respective position according to the map. By the end of the afternoon, the saplings were in position and standing upright, branches to the sky.

The final touch was the addition of a commemorative stainless-steel plaque to each tree’s trunk. But no drilling or nailing for these trees! Instead, the plaques were attached by an expandable metal band that stretches along with the tree’s growth so that the trunk and bark will not be harmed.

Next time you visit the site, stroll through the grounds, enjoy the shade, and read the plaques of each tree you pass. In doing so, you’ll be appreciating the incredible people who made this project possible, and the history they helped to preserve.

Interested in learning more about the Elms of Honor program, or making a similar donation to the Packard Proving Grounds? Contact the site to learn more about donation opportunities.