Dennis Ouellette remembers when there were trees on Bridge Street.
"Dutch elms used to drape almost onto the streets," he said. "Just beautiful."
That was back in the ’60s, before Dutch Elm disease wiped most of them out, and others were cut down because of construction.
Ouellette, owner of Ontario Orchards, along with Korean War veterans Tom Galloway and Bill McCarthy want to bring the trees back.
Galloway and McCarthy created a not-for-profit group called "Trees for Vets" to honor Oswego’s veterans and revitalize the city. Galloway decided to do something about the deterioration of downtown Oswego, which he observed for years.
"It’s going to beautify the main street downtown and honor the veterans of wars," Galloway said.
Lifetime residents of Oswego, Galloway and McCarthy remember the city they grew up in. So many boats clogged the Oswego River that people could walk across it boat to boat, McCarthy said.
"Oswego was a city when Syracuse was a village," Galloway said.
Ouellette, a lifelong resident of Oswego, hasn’t seen the city change much in his 58 years. However, a lot of family-run shops have disappeared and been replaced by big businesses. It’s taken away the community feel, Ouellette said. The trees will bring back character to Oswego.
"Nature always brings back character," he said.
"Trees for Vets" was approved unanimously Sept. 14 at Oswego’s common council meeting.
"I’d like to thank Mr. Galloway and Mr. McCarthy for bringing this program forward and beforehand thank all the veterans and anyone else who participates in donating a tree to the city," Mayor Randolph Bateman said at the meeting.
Ouellette is helping the veterans choose which trees to plant and the best spots to put them. He has recommended deciduous hardwood trees including maple, oak, beech and cherry, that will be able to withstand the winters that Oswego is known for.
"We’re participating and working with the vets of Oswego to help them choose trees," he said.
A black walnut tree, donated by Ouellette, was the first tree planted in the program. Its dark color represents the black missing man patches McCarthy said. It was planted at the Veterans’ Memorial Park on Sept. 18, National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
"The veterans deserve recognition because they give everything," Galloway said.
There are plans currently underway to plant between 25 and 50 trees in the spring. Family members can purchase trees from Ontario Orchards and buy plaques to honor veterans or other relatives they have lost. The city will place the trees equally on both sides of the river and tie yellow ribbons on the ones for service members on Veterans day.
One of the main goals of "Trees for Vets" is to become classified as part of "Tree City USA," a program that recognizes cities for their dedication to preserving trees.
The four requirements to become a member of "Tree City USA" are the creation of a tree board, a tree care ordinance, a community forestry program, and the observance of Arbor Day, said Jen Barnason, a representative from the Arbor Day Foundation. Approximately 100 cities in N.Y. are members, she said.
Galloway, Ouellette, and McCarthy would like to see Oswego added to that list.
"The tree city is a worthwhile endeavor," Galloway said.
"One of the benefits that a lot of the cities like is the recognition," Barnason said. "It makes the city look really nice when tourists see the tree city sign. It increases the pride of the city."
The ultimate goal of Trees for Vets is to have trees stretch to the city limits. The stretch of Rte. 104 that runs through Oswego is approximately 3.5 miles long and it would take "a couple thousand trees" to fill it, Galloway said. There’s no completion date set for the project, it’s ongoing until it’s completed or until it’s stopped, he said.
Galloway and McCarthy said they don’t expect to see the project completed in their lifetime, it’s for the future, so that the next generation can know what it’s like to see trees on Bridge Street.