Saplings of honey locust, crab apple, red sunset maple and swamp white oak, all just a few feet tall, are sprouting from parkways where dozens of mature ash trees once stood.
It's a scene being repeated throughout the Southland because a beetle known as the emerald ash borer has decimated tens of thousands of ash trees — leaving some subdivisions virtually treeless and towns shouldering hefty costs to plant new ones.
Having learned a hard lesson, towns are planting a wider variety of trees in case another insect or disease should attack a particular species in the future.
And because of the sheer numbers of new trees, towns are largely relying on residents to take care of them.
The loss of mature ash trees has greatly changed the look of some neighborhoods where the trees were conspicuous.
Streets in some Mokena neighborhoods and subdivisions, such as Tara Hills, have a "very dramatic" appearance since the ash trees have been leveled and smaller trees have replaced them, assistant village administrator Kirk Zoellner said.
He said the village has cut down about 2,200 trees, and by late spring expects to have more than that number planted. Mokena expects to have all of the roughly 3,400 ash trees on village land removed and replaced by the end of next year.
Orland Park is cutting down about 8,000 ash trees and expects to have the job of planting replacements done by late fall of 2016, Joe La Margo, a village spokesman, said.
Homewood finished clearing 2,600 ash trees two years ago and has planted more than 2,000 new trees, according to Jim Tresouthick, the village's landscape maintenance supervisor.
Probably the hardest-hit community locally was Tinley Park, where roughly 10,000 ash trees — or 40 percent of the tree population in parkways — have been felled. More than 2,000 new trees have been planted, according to Mitch Murdock of Site Design Group, a Chicago company that is overseeing Tinley Park's ash borer response plan.He said the loss of the ash trees, some of which were 80 feet tall, "was a tremendous hit to the value of this community." While streets and sewer lines will deteriorate and need replacing, trees are "the only portion of our infrastructure that gains value as it ages," Tresouthick said.
New trees holding up well
Murdock said ash trees were favored by home builders because they were fast-growing, attractive, relatively inexpensive and hardy, and they became the go-to tree during the home building surge that some Southland towns experienced in the years leading up to the Great Recession.