When Lucy Larcom, a 19th-century teacher and poet, wrote, “He who plants a tree plants a hope,” she could have been referring to the Heritage Fruit Tree Project. The effort to restore and promote local fruit production began some 18 years ago, when Jerome Osentowski took notice of forgotten trees in the Roaring Fork Valley. He and Michael Thompson, a local architect who specializes in greenhouses for sustainable living, began cataloging them through the seasons, watching for their blossoms and tasting their fruit.
These trees, many of which now have trunks too thick to hug, were planted by pioneers in the 1800s. The stalwarts, which thrive on hillsides stretching from Woody Creek to Glenwood Springs, have survived the test of time, as well as our dry and sometimes unforgiving climate and a variety of pests and diseases. Osentowski and Thompson graft new trees with scion wood from these elders to encourage hardiness.
“These are slow-motion creatures. A year to an apple or pear tree is like a day to us,” Thompson says. “If you take care of them and see to their needs and prune them, they can go for hundreds of years.”
Like old, gnarled friends, the trees still give up fruit—apples, apricots, pears, and plums. If the trees sit on public property, consider them ripe for the picking.