If a Tree Falls in Montana, It's Heard in New Jersey

By Paula Saha


On March 11, volunteers kicked up some sawdust in Townsend , Mont. , when they took down four Siberian elms, ground their stumps, installed a watering system, and put in a new bed of plants along the side of a school.

News reports show it was a very successful community event, the impetus for which was thousands of miles away – in Whippany.

It all started with Tom “Ace” Gallagher's brainstorm for helping cash-strapped school districts clean their grounds – dubbed “One Day, One School .”

The owner of the Whippany-based Ace Gallagher Stump Grinding Services started the initiative when he was walking with his son a couple of years ago by Salem Drive School in Hanover . Gallagher noticed a number of dead tree limbs, some smaller dead trees and a number of stumps between the parking area and the play area.

It's the kind of thing that no one thinks about until there's a problem, he said, but tree folks like him know better. “A hazardous limb on a tree can track and fall anytime. It can really hurt an adult, and it can really, really hurt a child.”

He contacted the school superintendent and brought in some friends and together they removed the limbs and ground down the stumps. He thought he was just doing a nice thing for his town. Turns out, he was on the verge of something bigger.

He partnered with Florham Park Mayor Scott Eveland and Rick Close, district manager of the Morris Plains-based Davey Tree Expert Co., and together they grew the idea. On June 2 of last year, around 75 volunteers gathered at Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park to clean out an area by the baseball field.

“I never saw kids work that hard,” he said. They cleared brush, hauled trash, raked leaves – anything they were asked to do.

“Sometimes, you think that today's kids don't do anything. And then sometimes you get hit on the head with a magic wand, and it's like, ‘Wow. This is awesome.'”

Eveland, a former school board member in town, estimates the volunteer effort saved the school district between $11,000 and $15,000. But, he said, “the most important aspect to me is having kids invest in their school. If they spend the whole day over there, they'll think twice about throwing that soda can on the ground. It's about giving them ownership.”

Next Saturday, the volunteer effort will move to the area between Brooklake and Briarwood schools in Florham Park . Five tree companies are coming together to help out, Gallagher said. “We're pruning a couple hundred feet of pathways, play areas. We're removing hazardous trees, we're grinding all the stumps, we're planting new trees in appropriate spots.”

It will be a true community event, both Eveland and Gallagher said. The school superintendent will be there alongside the kids. Town public works employees and school custodians are coming in on their own time. And Acting Police Chief Patrick Montuore will be acting as chief cook, serving up hot dogs and hamburgers for all the volunteers.

News of the “One Day, One School ” efforts were publicized after an article came out in a tree industry magazine, and since then, Gallagher has gotten lots of interest from around the country. He's working now on getting more national sponsors and writing guidelines for similar events throughout the country.