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The volunteer landscapers who gathered Thursday morning along McKinley Parkway in South Buffalo dug through frost-covered ground to begin work on the latest makeover of public green space sponsored by the National Garden Festival.

Organizers called it Extreme Makeover: Traffic Circle Edition, and by the end of the day more than 100 young trees of four varieties would be planted in the circle, just as Frederick Law Olmsted had planned.

The 20 volunteers represented the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Western New York State Nursery and Landscape Association and the National Garden Festival. Funding for the trees comes from the Western New York State Nurseryman’s Foundation, the New York State Nurseryman’s Foundation and ReTreeWNY.

For Ed Dore, volunteering was a way of reinvesting in the community. “It’s a thread we weave though the community,” Dore said. “It’s like Habitat for Humanity, but for trees.”

Dore, owner of Pendleton-based Dore Landscape Associates and Akron Tree Farms, donated equipment, manpower and expertise. By 10 a.m. Thursday, 30 trees, including Washington Hawthorns, seedless Horse Chestnuts, Burr Oaks and Princeton Elms, had been planted in concentric rings under his direction.

“The Hawthorn is a preferred street tree,” Dore explained. “It stays low, doesn’t hit any wires. It flowers white, and there are no thorns. It’s just a big tree. It will get about 18 feet tall.”

The Princeton Elm, on the other hand, is a survivor with an interesting backstory, according to Dore.

“During the ’60s, when Dutch Elm disease was going through New Jersey, there were certain elms that did not die because they were resistant to the Dutch Elm Disease,” he said. “Princeton Nurseries patented this elm. It is expensive and very unusual.” In all, 46 elms will be planted in the traffic circle and along McKinley Parkway as part of the National Garden Festival’s inaugural “LEAF a Legacy” project. The project is the continuation of the Front Yard Contest, which during past years provided free landscape makeovers to residential blocks on streets located near Olmsted parks.

This year, a public space is receiving the free landscaping. Thursday, several members of the McKinley Parkway Association rolled up their sleeves to pitch in at the traffic circle that links McKinley and Dorrance Avenue.

Jack Landgraf, a 16-year resident of McKinley Parkway, is vice president of the neighborhood association. He manned a wheelbarrow for much of the morning to haul dirt for the newly planted trees.

“We have a walkable community here, and this is what we’ve been striving for – more trees and gardens to support the parkway,” said Landgraf. “Families live here, and they will enjoy the shade of the trees. Curb cuts will follow to facilitate pedestrian traffic. Crosswalk signs will go up, too.”

Brian Dold, associate landscape architect at the Conservancy, selected the tree varieties. Dold said an accident two years ago at the traffic circle damaged the former ornamental plants and shrubbery. The new trees, Dold explained, “will nicely complete the tree canopy on the perimeter of the circle as Olmsted had intended.”

The landscapers worked in 25-degree temperature with a wind chill of 19. The less-than-optimum planting conditions would not bother these young trees, assured Neil Stern, past president of the Western New York State Nursery and Landscape Association.

“Planting this time of year takes a lot less care. These trees are dormant, and it doesn’t bother them to be moved around,” said Stern, who helped coordinate the National Garden Festival’s Front Yard Contest. “We’re actually building the future here.”

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com