Saving Georgetown’s Ginkgo Trees


A compromise solution about one of the most contentious issues that comes before the Georgetown-Burleith advisory neighborhood commission every year was peacefully agreed upon at the ANC’s virtual meeting on Sept. 29 — just minutes before the beginning of the first debate (speaking of contentious) between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

In Georgetown, the issue is ginkgo trees, specifically, the female ones. The females wreak havoc on sidewalks and streets when they drop their stinky, slimy berries in the fall. Passing cars and pedestrians squish the berries into a slippery mess that smells like dog poop, notably in front of residences on the neighborhood’s east side. 

Many neighbors want them removed. But Trees of Georgetown Chair Betsy Emes differs strongly. “I cannot fathom why anyone would want to take down a tree,” she said last year. Members of Trees for Georgetown, a program of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, often remind Georgetowners that residents are responsible for the trees in front of their homes. That includes watering them and cleaning the sidewalks.

“It used to be the one issue that ANCs had full control over,” Chair Rick Murphy said in 2019. But then the District launched a free ginkgo tree removal program, requiring only that the majority of the affected neighbors sign a written petition and get the support of their advisory neighborhood commissioner and District Council representative. A large tree on the corner of 27th and O Streets was removed in that way.   

This year, however, a petition by resident of the 1300 block of 27th Street was denied for lack of sufficient signatures.   

So, Trees for Georgetown proposed a pilot program. Between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. every weekday for six weeks — or as long as the ginkgo trees on 27th Street between N and Dumbarton Streets keep dropping berries, a crew will clean the sidewalks in front of residences on the west side of the street and the church on the east side. The crews are being organized by Will Avila, a Halcyon House Innovative Fellow who is partnering with Clean Decisions to employ “citizens who have returned” on various needed community projects. The organization will bring all the equipment for the job. There is also a second spot on the east side being looked for regular clean-up.   

Neighbors along 27th Street have agreed not to resubmit their tree removal proposal until the pilot program is completed. 

The ANC in a resolution to the District Department of Urban Forestry Division requested that it “pay close attention to the results of the TFG pilot program and works wth TFG to understand the cost and effort to the pilot program. A site visit would be welcome.” In addition, the commissioners asked that Urban Forestry “attends a future ANC2E meeting during which pilot program evaluation will be discussed.”

“I really hope this works,” said Murphy with a sigh, as Commissioner Gwen Lohse read the supportive resolution.   


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *