Former Mayor Mike McHale, a member of Sea Isle's Environmental Commission, tends to some of the 2,000 seedlings that he will hand out to the public for free.

By Donald Wittkowski

Mike McHale wants to beautify Sea Isle City – one tree at a time.

The former mayor, who now serves as a member of the city’s Environmental Commission and chairman of its Shade Tree Committee, has 2,000 trees that he plans to hand out to the public for free. No strings attached.

“Here they are. There are 2,000 trees,” McHale said, pointing to all of the seedlings that are temporarily taking up space in a backyard garden at his home on 43rd Street.

The trees that McHale will give away come from the New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign in partnership with the New Jersey State Forest Nursery. The program helps communities replace trees that were lost during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

In all, McHale has 15 tree varieties, including old favorites such as oaks, dogwoods, sycamores, pines and spruces. He explained that some varieties will be good for planting in Sea Isle’s protective dunes, including beach plums and bayberry.

The tree giveaway will begin April 28 during the National Arbor Day celebration at the public library at 4800 Central Ave. The Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum, which is based at the library, will hold a tree-planting ceremony at noon on Arbor Day to honor its volunteers.

More trees will be given away April 29 during Sea Isle’s spring beach cleanup event. The beach cleanup had originally been scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed until April 29 because of rain. Trees will be handed out at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and the Promenade coinciding with the beach cleanup from 10 a.m. to noon.

At this point, most of the 2,000 trees resting in McHale’s garden are little more than limbless stalks about a foot or two high. McHale, though, envisions the seedlings blossoming into their full botanical beauty in years to come to create more green space in a beach town crowded with vacation homes and condos.

Trees and a grass lawn provide a green refuge for McHale at his home on 43rd Street.

McHale said the trees serve as a reminder of the original plans of Sea Isle’s founding father, Charles K. Landis, when he created the town in the 1880s as a health resort.

“My ideal town is what Charles K. Landis’ dream was, to make a beautiful, healthy resort,” he said.

McHale, who is also the president of the city’s Historical Society and Museum, said Landis wanted to require homeowners to plant flowers and trees as part of the deeds for their property when Sea Isle was founded.

When McHale was mayor, the city approved an ordinance in 1986 requiring that every new housing unit in town have at least one tree and 11 plants, he said. The ordinance ensured that each new house would have at least some landscaping during Sea Isle’s building boom in the 1980s.

“This is something that we worked out with the developers, the business community and the residents,” McHale said of the landscaping requirements. “We wanted something that could be done.”

Although Sea Isle is best known for its powdery beaches, it is one of the member towns in the New Jersey Shade Tree Federation, an organization that encourages residents and communities to plant trees throughout the state, McHale noted.

“We’re trying to promote the growth of trees in Sea Isle,” he said.