In my column last week, I floated the idea of turning the Los Banos canal trail into a kind of small-scale arboretum. In today’s column, I’d like to lay out what I think is a viable plan to make that happen.

As perceptive readers may remember, last week I noted how I wish I knew the specific variety of each of the 30 or so tree varieties along the canal trail.

I worked long and hard on this project, using Google Lens and a book entitled, “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us,” by Matt Ritter. Ritter grew up in rural California, earned degrees at UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego and is now a professor who teaches courses in botany, plant diversity and ecology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

It’s been an informative and helpful book for me, but as a tree-ID novice, I had challenges. I thought, for example, that I had identified a tree on the canal trail correctly, until Mary, who lives in a home bordering the trail and appreciates its tree diversity, told me I was dead wrong.

I still believe, however, that I have tentatively identified on the trail these different tree varieties: Monterey pine, Chinese pistache, California sycamore, Raywood ash, coast live oak, valley oak, southern live oak, pepper, hackberry, Chinese tallow, California bay laurel and northern California black walnut. I say “tentatively” because I’m an amateur when it comes to tree identification.

I decided to connect with The Westside Express’s Garden Guru, Mark Koehler, a professional arborist. Between us we came up with what I think is a brilliant idea. Mark has suggested a way that canal trail users can readily know the identity of individual trees.

We could utilize what the U.S Forest Service uses, a small galvanized marker, the size of a silver dollar, which can be nailed into a tree without harming it. The marker could give either a brief abbreviation of the tree variety or a number, which could be tracked to a pamphlet or website that would identify the tree by its specific variety.

Mark, a certified arborist, using standard taxonomy, could identify each tree by its scientific nomenclature. This would create a fundamental and unambiguous understanding of each tree, with the binary “taxon” of genus and species. This would take the guesswork (like mine) out of tree identification

It might even be possible to have along the trail an information kiosk with photos and narratives which would describe for trail users the different tree varieties on the trail, as well as the abbreviations or the numbers on the tree markers.

If this idea were to become a reality, the canal trail would not only continue to be a place enjoyed by walkers, joggers and bicyclists but become a kind of educational laboratory for people of all ages. Elementary school children, especially, could benefit from this when they walk the trail with either their parents or their teachers.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know, for example, the different kinds of oak and pine trees we walk past? Wouldn’t it be good to know the different deciduous and evergreen trees? 

If canal trail trees were accurately identified, people walking along the trail could see what specific varieties of trees look like in their maturity. That information could be helpful in selecting the kinds of trees they might plant in their front or back yards.

Of course, as Mark told me, homeowners would need to prepare their Westside  soil carefully before planting. This would include the addition of organic humus, facilitating the reversal of soil compaction and impermeable indigenous soil. And homeowners would have to give ongoing care to newly planted trees, including deep watering and continuing maintenance.

Mark and I plan to suggest our idea of a canal trail mini-arboretum to the Tree Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission, while talking with city staff and city council members.

If city officials are receptive to the idea, they would need to reach out to CCID management to get their approval and cooperation. Since CCID collaboratively cooperated with the city 30 years ago to create the trail, I think they might reasonably see this idea as feasible.

I will try to keep Westside Express readers updated on Mark’s and my idea in the months ahead.

And since I’m on the topic of the value of trees, I have another related idea that might appeal to readers of The Westside Express: a “Tree of the Week” feature. 

The Westside Express could ask readers to email to the newspaper photos of individual trees they particularly admire. It could be a tree in their front yard or in a neighbor’s front yard. It could be a tree in a park or along the trail.

The person sending the photo would also need to tell us the location of the tree, so that other readers, if they want to, could walk or drive by and admire it themselves.

The sender need not include the identity of the tree variety. My colleague Mark Koehler, I’m sure, could do that. And then The Westside Express could print the photo of the tree, its species or cultivar and its location.

Anyone who wants to participate in this idea can send me an email with a photo of the admired tree attached. It’s another idea which could possibly happen. We’ll see.

I may not be Johnny Appleseed or J. Sterling Morton, but I might be nicknamed Sterling John, planting the arboreal educational seed.

In memoriam: Los Banos lost a remarkable individual in the passing of Miguel Castro. Miguel was an institution in the Portuguese community in Los Banos, especially in his role as a longtime radio announcer for the Portuguese station KLBS.

Castro also taught English as a second language courses for many years at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College.

Miguel brought a smile to many people of all nationalities on the Westside. He will be missed by his family members and many friends, of which I was privileged to be one.