Friday, April 06, 2007

Trees making Buchanan a cherry of a town

Most of the cherry trees in Buchanan are the same type that attracts folks to Washington, D.C.
The Roanoke Times
By Jay Conley

For about two weeks this time of year, the cherry trees in Buchanan are in peak bloom, attracting pedestrians and car traffic from all over to the tiny Botetourt County town on the edge of the James River.

"On Sundays, it's almost a parade of cars that drive through as people leave church," said Harry Gleason, Buchanan's downtown revitalization program manager. "We get people from all over who come riding to look at the trees."

About 12 years ago, Gleason was a graduate student who came to Buchanan to do a 40-hour study to see what the town could do to improve itself.

Gleason, now 42, became so infatuated with Buchanan that he ended up staying and working for the town. One of his first suggestions was to help dress up the streets with cherry trees.

"They have such a spectacular display," he said. "It was a way to make a big statement that really made an area very attractive. ... It's just a way to bring a lot of attention to an area that kind of had been forgotten for a while."

Most of the trees in Buchanan are Yoshino trees, the same type of Japanese cherry tree that attracts tourists to Washington, D.C., this time of year.

But Gleason said that different varieties of cherry trees, which bloom at different intervals than the Yoshino, are being sold now to extend the peak bloom time.

The first cherry trees were planted in the rights of way on Lowe and Boyd streets soon after Gleason came to town in 1995.

Since then, Gleason said individual homeowners have planted cherry trees on their own property.

"Each year because of requests, the special events committee will purchase trees and set up on the weekends and sell the trees so that it's easy for people to get them," he said. "We'll be doing it again for probably the next two to three weeks on Saturday morning."

The young trees are sold for $25 next to the Buchanan Theatre on Main Street.

Many in the town say the trees are representative of other revitalization efforts there.

"We're just trying to bring it back to an old-time, small-town feel," said Barbara Stull, a member of the Buchanan revitalization partnership. She said her two grown children have decided to stay in town because of that atmosphere.

Gleason said the town has reaped $6.5 million in economic growth recently. Storefronts are being redone, businesses are increasing and residents are involved in many improvements to a public park along the James River.

"Individuals and neighbors can take small steps to create huge impacts," Gleason said. "And that's how we've pretty much gone through our whole process."

The town will host an Arbor Day celebration Friday, a Civil War history weekend beginning April 27, and annually hosts a summer carnival and an array holiday, music and art festivals.

"Long term we'd like to get a building and do a museum," Stull said.

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