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Frank Gray

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
At Sandy Larkin’s home on Grey Birch Road, someone mysteriously cut down her tree. That solves her leaf problem.

City’s leaf pickup works better after they fall

It’s leaf pickup time in Fort Wayne, and crews are out scraping up piles of leaves that people have raked into the tree lawns, as they’re called, and gutters.

I’ve never quite understood why the city bothers to do this. I’ve never lived in another city that does it. It’s always been individual residents’ responsibility to rake them up and bag them themselves.

Or to rake them up and run over them with a lawnmower, reducing the leaves to little chips that can be stuffed into a single bag.

Or to mow the lawn with the leaves in place, chopping them up and cutting the grass at the same time.

Or to just let the leaves lie on the ground and dissolve into mulch over the course of the winter.

I understand, to an extent, why the city picks up the leaves. A lot of people, thanks to the pickup program, have been trained over the years to rake their leaves into the gutter, where they turn into ugly, sodden masses that creep along the street until they reach a storm drain, which promptly gets stopped up by the leaves. If we expect stormwater to drain, the city has no choice but to pick up the leaves.

But there is one thing I can’t understand, and some callers have suggested they can’t understand it, either: If the city is going to pick up leaves, why don’t they wait until they fall from the trees?

A handful of leaves have fallen off the big maple in my front yard, but the leaves still on the tree are as thick as they were in the middle of July. It’s that way in most parts of the city, I presume. It’s not as though fall arrives significantly earlier or later in different parts of the city.

So why, one caller asked, is the city out with trucks and crews picking up leaves when they won’t even start falling in any numbers for another couple of weeks?

That’s a legitimate question.

To be fair, no one can really predict exactly when all the leaves will fall. But someone has to pick a date when work will start and crews will have enough time to go up and down every street in the city twice before the dead of winter arrives and the leaves have turned into unmovable objects frozen to the pavement.

Still, it seems silly to have crews sweeping leaves on streets where there really aren’t enough leaves to worry about.

At Sandy Larkin’s house off Scott Road, though, leaves will not be a problem.

A couple of years ago, Larkin took part in a tree-planting program and got a new tree – a maple or an oak, she says; she’s not sure – planted in the right of way in front of her home.

If you want a tree in a location like that, you have to plant a city-approved variety of tree. If you plant your own, unapproved variety, you’re liable to get a nasty letter ordering you to remove under threat of a penalty.

Larkin did everything the right way, and for two years, it had been growing as happily as a tree can be out off Scott Road.

Then, a few days ago, Larkin noticed something. Someone had cut down the tree and hauled it away, trunk, leaves and all, leaving nothing but a small stump.

It’s an unsolved mystery, Larkin says.

So no leaf pickup will be necessary on Grey Birch Road.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.