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Seeing the Trees for the Forest

Bill Gleason, Tree Man. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

Bill Gleason’s contributions to West Hartford’s arboreta are extraordinary


Bill Gleason’s work with West Hartford’s trees has been a “godsend,” according to people such as Doug Jackson, Westmoor Park’s naturalist. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

By Tracey Weiss

Tree man. That’s what the bumper sticker on the back of Bill Gleason’s car says, and it couldn’t be truer.

Also true: his contribution to the town’s tree population, both literally and figuratively, is already leaving a legacy that will carry on forever. It’s no wonder that he won the 2024 Arborist Citation Award from the Connecticut Tree Protective Award. CTPA is an educational association dedicated to advancing the care of Connecticut’s trees.

Bill Gleason (left) won the 2024 Arborist Citation Award from the Connecticut Tree Protective Association, which he was given on January 18. The association is an educational non-profit dedicated to advancing the care of Connecticut’s trees.
 Courtesy photo

Gleason was nominated by Ted Goerner. Goerner and his wife, Carolyn, founded the West Hartford Tree Project, now in its fourth year of planting at least 1,000 trees each year in town and more.

“Bill has been an invaluable addition in many ways,” Goerner said in his nomination letter. “He has assisted with our informational slideshows on our Facebook Page, he has been present on the last two distribution days giving firsthand advice to people as they pick up trees, he has been at the last two planting days and a planting day at Sedgwick, and last year he gave fantastic expert advice on which native species to procure.”

If that isn’t enough, Gleason decided to take on cataloging the trees in Westmoor Park in 2021. As a result, Westmoor Park’s arboretum has received designation by ArbNet, which “facilitates the sharing of knowledge, experience, and resources to help arboreta meet their institutional goals,” and is considered the industry standard for arboreta.

Westmoor is now an accredited Level 1 Arboretum.

“It took a while to photograph and catalog the trees, and then to go through the arboretum process – that was a challenge,” Gleason said.

It meant taking pictures of 66 trees (as of press time) six times a year and writing copy to document each season of change, the leaves, buds, and more. And now, the website 4seasontrees.com/westmoor features a self-guided tour of all of that work, with maps, lists and, of course, lots of photographs.

Gleason was also nominated for the award by Liz Pang, a volunteer for the Tree Project and the owner of Luna Tree Care. “The fact that he turned Westmoor Park into an arboretum was very impressive,” Pang said. “His virtual tour of the arboretum, I believe, is an amazing feat of love for not only trees, but for our town. It will be used a resource for many generations to come.”

Doug Jackson agrees. Jackson is Westmoor Park’s naturalist. “Bill’s been a godsend,” he said. “It’s me and the staff tending to the park and adding trees and other interest. We do as much as we can. But there’s always been a void in what we do for adults.

Jackson was introduced to Gleason three years ago through Goerner and the West Hartford Tree Project.

“We were talking about creating a database of the trees here,” Jackson said, “and Bill said, ‘I can do that. I love trees.’ He has so much expertise and he is an excellent photographer. He dedicated himself to coming to the park to photograph the trees, and really spearheaded our efforts to finalize an arboretum officially. I really appreciate his friendship. It’s a real asset to what we do here. I’m hoping it will grow people’s interest and appreciation for the world around us.”

There’s more to do at Westmoor, according to Gleason. “Westmoor has 60 tree species without even going into the deep forest. Some are 150 years old.” He plans on continuing his work there to make Westmoor a Level 2 Arboretum with ArbNet, which means the documentation of a minimum of 100-130 tree species.

Gleason’s work with West Hartford’s trees extends beyond the arboretum at Westmoor Park and the West Hartford Tree Project. Over the years, he has created Tree Trails at most of the West Hartford Parks, in coordination with the Leisure Services Department. He has also identified all the mature trees on the Sedgwick School campus, laying the groundwork for a potential future arboretum there.

He has collaborated with Marty Aligata of the Notable Trees Project, an organization that collects and distributes information about Connecticut’s largest and most historic trees, both native and introduced. He attends invasive plant cutting parties and other events and workshops hosted by the West Hartford Garden Club. He also conducts tours of the trees at the parks.

Bill Gleason has been photographing the trees in Westmoor Park, and was instrumental in the park’s designation as a Level 1 Arboretum. Photo credit: Tracey Weiss

All of these accomplishments started after he retired in 2020. “I thought, ‘What is the next phase?’” Gleason joked. “I am not a golfer but I’m good at rainforests and deserts. I’m weak on Northeast trees. A couple years before COVID, I turned my attention to trees,” he said.

“I became an ambassador at Elizabeth Park,” Gleason said, which led to his joining so many of the tree-related groups in town. He can also usually be found leading a tree tour in one of the many parks in town.

“On top of all his other achievements he is a really nice guy who is willing to share his wealth of knowledge with anyone willing to learn,” Pang said.

A native of Hartford in a family of five, Gleason’s family moved to West Hartford when he was 16.

“I was a diver as a teenager,” he said. “I was fluent in coral reefs, rainforests, oceanic currents.” Over the years, he estimates that he did more than 10,000 dives.

He graduated from Northwest Catholic High School in town. He received his BS from Fordham University in the Bronx, where he focused on marketing, management, and journalism.

Gleason’s love of diving and his background led to a position in 1978 as a freelancer and advertising sales representative for Skin Diver Magazine. He quickly moved up the ladder there, becoming the editor/publisher of the Petersen Publishing Company (that published Skin Diver) for almost two decades, and living in Manhattan and then later, in Los Angeles.

In 1997, he moved back to West Hartford to create his own consulting business, and started his own company, Digital Wordsmith, which offered copywriting, SEO copywriting, website development and content, and more.

Gleason plans on continuing his volunteer work in town, and is scheduling a number of tours through the town’s Leisure Services Department this year. “I really feel this is something I can touch and share with people,” he said.

“The story of trees is intertwined with the story of civilization,” Gleason added. “The role they play in our environment and contribution they make to our world is so important. The health of the climate and the health of trees are related. If you can’t increase your appreciation of trees, at least plant some.

If you’re interested in a tree tour, Gleason is scheduling a number of tours this year that will be promoted through West Hartford Leisure Services. You must go to the town’s portal (westhartford.recdesk.com/Community/Home) to register to receive information about the tours. Register as soon as you can; the tours fill up quickly.

Go to https://4seasontrees.com/westmoor for the self-guided tour of Westmoor Park’s Arboretum.

A version of this article previously appeared in the March 2024 issue of West Hartford LIFE.

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