In an ecosystem, everything is interdependent. From stones to streams and toads to trees, everything is connected. Jenny Gulick recognized this connection early on in her life as she followed an uncommon passion to study trees. She then took on the challenging task of bringing an awareness of this connection into the urban environment as an urban forester. Her expertise in urban forest management and planning are nationally known. After almost two decades of serving the citizens of Cincinnati, Jenny has since been sharing her expertise by completing projects for and consulting with organizations including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Architect of the Capitol and the Veterans Administration. She is now a principal at women-owned Urban Canopy Works LLC. Jenny took time to explain her path through the trees, best advice for sprouting conservationists and explore the benefit of parks and green spaces.
Jenny Gulick (she/her)
Great Parks: How and why did you get into the world of conservation?
Jenny Gulick: I did not know what path I was going to take when I was younger. I was always outside, and loved all the things in the natural world, but by a process of elimination, I realized trees were my favorite part of the outdoors. I knew trees were fascinating, but didn’t know what one did for a living that focused on trees. I figured a forestry degree was a good place to start and enrolled in West Virginia University’s forest resource management program. That “crazy idea” turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. As a suburban girl going to forestry school with all these guys whose uncles owned sawmills, I was definitely a fish out of water. But my gut feeling about a forestry career was validated once I started taking classes, and my childhood love for trees turned into my life’s passion.
When I graduated and could not find a job in traditional forestry, I saw that the City of Cincinnati had an “urban forestry” position open. I didn’t know what that was at the time, but it had ‘forestry’ in the title, so I applied and was lucky enough to be hired. My first job then was to reforest the streets of Cincinnati, care for the mature trees and hopefully bring nature closer to city residents. That job was the best of both worlds – I was able to work outside with trees all day, and got to do it in a great city instead of some far-flung woodlands.
GP: Did you have someone who was a specific inspiration?
JG: If there was a person it would have to be my grandmother, who was quite an adventuress. She was very involved with the Cincinnati Zoo and Great Parks (then known as Hamilton County Parks). She was good friends with Great Parks’ naturalist Warren Wells. We would go out on hikes in Sharon Woods and Winton Woods with Mr. Wells leading the way. I’ve never forgotten all the things he and my grandmother taught me on those walks.
GP: Did you experience any barriers in this field? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
JG: Honestly, I have not had any barriers. Maybe I’m lucky, but I was immediately accepted by my predominantly male classmates in forestry school (who taught me about as much as my professors), as well as treated with respect by my professional co-workers. In my entire career, I can’t recall anything put up to stop me. Although, it could just be a matter of who I am. … I’m pretty easy-going and polite, but if you tell me ‘no,’ it just makes me want to do it more.
GP: What value do you believe parks and other public green spaces have in conservation efforts?
JG: Green spaces are incredibly important. They play a huge part in conservation efforts. First of all, they are a repository and safe keepers of natural resources. Secondly, parks and green spaces are the places people can go in and see, touch and interact with the natural resources around them.
GP: What would you recommend to someone who wants to get involved in the world of conservation?
JG: I would say “start in your own backyard.” You can follow a logical process like I did and explore the question, “What is it about the outdoors that I am really interested in?” When you find something that interests you about the natural world, focus on that first. It is so easy now to get information about whatever it is you are passionate about; pick that one thing and go for it. The wonderful thing about nature is that it’s all interconnected. Ultimately, once you pick your one thing, whether it’s trees, flowers, weather, insects, water or animals, you will start learning, caring and getting excited about other things in the ecosystem because of the beautiful and important interdependency of the natural world.
Today, we can walk down the streets of the Tri-State and see trees that Jenny had planted at the beginning of an evergreen career. For her, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. All she wants is to be known as the woman who planted trees and made urban streets better places to live, work and play.
In the concrete jungles of urban America, street trees can bring nature front and center to help people connect to the natural environment. That connection has been at the heart of Jenny’s career for over three decades and counting.
You can explore some of Jenny’s past projects and accolades at Urban Canopy Works.
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest