Tree Commission Reactivated and Refocused

 In City Planning, Government, Parks & Recreation, Street Department

By Troy Ackerman, Associate Superintendent, Street Department, and President of the Tree Commission

Imagine flying over Auburn at 20,000 feet and seeing nothing but tree canopy. That’s Mayor Ley’s vision on Auburn in the years to come. It’s also what led to the Tree Commission being reactivated after several years of not formally meeting.

The Tree Commission plays a huge role in planting, protecting and preserving our city’s natural environment. Specifically, we’re focused on the care of trees and shrubs in parks, along streets and in other public areas. Our planning and efforts will include everything from their pruning, planting and replanting to removal or disposition.

I’m so impressed with the group who has come together to serve on the Tree Commission. It includes five community members, plus two representatives from the Street Department and the Parks Department. All of us are interested in the environment and being involved in the community. We’ll serve four-year terms, with at least one term expiring each year.

You’ll see these folks around Auburn more as we gain momentum so I’d like you to know a little about them:

  • Troy Ackerman: I’ve long been interested in trees and planting. I have memories of helping my uncle do landscaping in high school, and my interest was reignited when I began working with the Street Department. I’ve attended the DNR Indiana Tree Steward training and have learned a lot in recent years about overall canopy and how to address issues.
  • Eric Ditmars: An avid outdoors man, Eric has spent his career focused on the natural environment. Currently superintendent of the Parks Department, he has also worked with Steuben County Park and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). His desire is to educate and promote “what lies beyond everyone’s window.”
  • Jennifer Hathaway: Jen enjoys hiking, gardening and outdoor activities. Her non-profit and corporate background will be a great asset to the Tree Commission as we organize and prioritize our efforts. She is a recruiter for Parkview Health, where she recruits physician and APPs in Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Steuben and Kosciusko counties, as well as NW Ohio. She’s excited to be working with this team to improve the landscape of Auburn.
  • Bill Ward: Bill is a self-taught tree man. He learned about trees by reading field guides and has planted several trees on family properties. He wants to ensure trees being planted in Auburn are native and beneficial to the citizenry and local ecosystems.
  • Erick Nickerson: In his own words, Erick “lives for trees.” He is a forester, and is passionate about sharing and teaching his skills. We all stand ready to learn from him.
  • Mike Bennett: Mike taught middle school science for 27 years and has an interest in He has basic knowledge of tree identification and is committed to helping the city further its “Tree City” name.
  • Peter Hathaway: Peter has been in the green industry for the last 35 years, working for Four Seasons Landscaping. He’s also operated The Garden Gate Nursery for the last 16 years. As a result, he brings a wealth of knowledge on tree species, planting, environment, local geography and history of what people have been planting in Auburn.

Our Focus for 2020-2021
Over the next year, the Tree Commission is focused on several priorities. Our most significant one is completing a tree inventory. It starts with identifying and logging the condition and disposition of existing trees on public property (i.e., street right-of-ways, parks, public spaces), followed by planning for new plantings. To accomplish this massive task, our first objective is to secure funding. We are seeking a matching grant from the Indiana DNR. Our hope is to conduct the tree inventory next spring.

Another focus for us—one that we’re all excited about—is supporting Travers Mason, a local Boy Scout working to earn his Eagle Scout. He’s raising funds from the community, so he can buy and plant 100 trees this fall. We’re really excited about our partnership with him and the impact one young man’s efforts will have on the entire city for years to come. If you’re interested in supporting him, please reach out to myself ( or Jen Hathaway (

Integrating tree care as a formal step into city infrastructure projects is another important priority for us. As projects are complete, the Street Department and the Tree Commission can ensure trees and landscape are repaired or restored.

Finally, we have efforts underway to help us be a resource to the public. The Tree Commission plans to provide educational resources on the types of trees to plant and how to care for them over time.

Making a Difference
We take pride in our work. We’re making a difference for the future generations to enjoy the healthy trees. As the Tree Commission makes progress, we’ll continue to keep you updated.

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