Planting A Legacy, One Tree At A Time

Staff Writer

A health psychologist and wellness professor at Bellarmine University, Dr. Chris Catt recently added a new title to his resume – Tree Champion, though he’ll admit he’s no expert on botany.

After reading an article in a local newspaper about Louisville’s ranking as the No. 1 heat island – a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas – in the country, Catt became inspired to restore the storm-damaged tree canopy in Louisville, initiating a grassroots campaign. Called “Re-Tree Dundee,” the movement promotes the planting of greenery in the Upper Highlands Neighborhood, where Catt resides.

Shoveling out $500 from his own pocket, he purchased banners and yard signs advertising the cause and discovered far more people than he expected were interested in improving the health of the environment along with him.

“I saw the No. 1 ranking, and plus I’m a walker so I’m walking in my neighborhood and I’m feeling the 100-degree heat … heat index was more like 120, and I just noticed the total lack of shade from all the trees we lost from the wind and the hail (storms) and all that,” Catt said. “So I got it in my mind that I could do something about that.”

About September, throughout the Dundee Estates neighborhood near Atherton High School, Catt rotated signs reading clever phrases such as “Got Shade?” or “Re-Tree Now.” His effort eventually caught the attention of 43 people willing to pay for the delivery, planting and mulching of trees, which cost $225 each, around the Upper Highlands.

Once he’d collected funding, Catt enlisted Mike Hayman of the Louisville Tree Advisory Commission, receiving professional advice on shade tree species, selection and planting sites to maximize shade for walkers and joggers.

Beginning Nov. 27 and ending Nov. 29, Integrity Landscaping planted 43 trees, many of which line Fordyce Lane, Tartan Way, Lamont Road and the surrounding area. The trees are a mixture of maples, oaks, ginkos and elms, ranging from 8 to 10 feet tall. Additionally, Hayman selected two white-bark sycamore specimen trees, 20 feet tall, for the neighborhood, which were placed on strategically visible corners.

“He’s had tremendous success, 43 trees on just a few streets, that’s a tremendous improvement,” said Hayman, who’s worked with the tree canopy in Seneca Gardens for more than 20 years. “It’s pretty impressive what he’s done.”

Catt is currently working with Councilman Tom Owen, Owen’s assistant Terra Long and the Upper Highlands Neighborhood Association to reestablish the tree canopy along Dundee Road, while creating a model for other neighborhood associations to follow. Catt has also consulted on the project with City Arborist Mark White and Louisville Metro Landscape Architect Sherie Long.

Catt strives to see another 30 trees, at least, planted before the spring and is hoping Owen will budget for several 20-foot trees to provide summer shade in the first season. Catt also would like for smaller and faster growing 8- to 10-foot trees, including a variety of oaks, maples, sweet gums and black gums, to be planted in front of existing mature trees that are in decline.

“With all the storms we’ve had with the limbs falling in the yards and houses … a lot of people now see trees as a nuisance – but you have to remember that they produce oxygen and they reduce the heat island,” Catt said. “You have to get people away from thinking this is a nuisance thing, it’s actually a good thing 98 percent of the time.”

Though Catt’s background is in psychology and wellness coaching, he’s proven a wealth of motivation and persistence can pay off greatly in any cause. He perceives “Re-Tree Dundee” as a community project contributing to the environmental wellness of the city. Catt’s met with Atherton’s principal, Tom Aberli, looking to involve students in the project in exchange for community service hours. He’s also seeking support from neighbors. Ideally, Public Works will fulfill the duty of summer watering so the trees can become well established.

“In the (Bellarmine) wellness class, I teach seven areas of wellness. … The environmental wellness is part of the bigger picture. … It has to do with the quality of life in the city. If you can improve the quality of life in the city, that’s more attractive to people. … So I just see it as kind of an extension of my wellness teaching.”

Catt’s goal is for 100 trees to be planted in the first year of the project, matching a generous contribution from Ecotech Corporations toward the city’s urban reforestation project. If just 100 people in the city would do as Catt, the net result could be 10,000 new, oxygen-producing, heat island-reducing trees.

“We need sort of Tree Champions in different neighborhoods,” Catt said. “Our area is several hundred thousand trees short of what we need, so that’s a lot of trees. … If people can help get trees in the ground then they’re leaving a legacy. Because the trees we’re putting in the ground are going to be 100-year trees. We’re not going to see them when they’re gigantic, but we’re going to be the ones that got it going. And somebody has to start them.”

Photo Courtesy of JORDIE OETKEN

If you’d like to become part of the “Re-Tree Dundee” initiative in your neighborhood, contact Dr. Catt at 502.345.6859 or e-mail

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at, 502.498.2051.

Courtesy Photos

  • Teresa C.

    I have lived and loved the Dundee Estate Area for 22 years. I think it’s Wonderful what Dr. Catt has started and applaud his vision & all others involved in this effort. Thank you!