F.C.’s New Arborist Brings Nationwide Knowledge to Post

An early fascination with climbing spurred Ben Thompson into the field of forestry, which on March 1 led to his new position as Falls Church’s City arborist.



(Photo: Gary Mester)

An early fascination with climbing spurred Ben Thompson into the field of forestry, which on March 1 led to his new position as Falls Church’s City arborist.

In an interview with the News-Press, Thompson fondly recalled memories of a childhood spent in Oxford, Conn., climbing trees and playing outside in the small New England town. In high school, Thompson realized that his passions could be channeled into a career.

“I realized there were jobs that would pay me to climb trees, and that’s all I needed,” Thompson said. “That’s how I got hooked.”

After graduating high school, Thompson enrolled in Unity College, an environmental science institution in Maine, where he studied urban and community forestry. After a year spent back in his hometown, enjoying the trees from his childhood with his newfound knowledge, he moved to Washington state. He spent a year in Seattle performing commercial tree care before taking a job with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as a community assistant forester.

Thompson decided seven years after graduating college that the window of opportunity to study in graduate school was closing, so he left Washington behind for Florida, enrolling in a master’s degree program at the University of Florida.

“It seemed like a new adventure, with new trees, new climate, new people and new everything,” Thompson said. Upon graduating with a Master’s of Science degree in Forest Resources and Engineering with a minor in Geography, he began work with a non-profit land conservation organization in the area until the urge to move back north led him to consider a position overseeing the trees in the City of Falls Church.

Thompson says that his cross-national work and education journey gives him unique experience that he will bring to his work for the city, because he has seen a variety of trees and how they are cared for in different parts of the nation. And when it comes to tree diversity, Thompson praises the work that former arborists have done in the city to facilitate the growth of an assortment of trees — which he says is important because if one type of tree is wiped out, for instance, because of infection, the overall density of trees isn’t so greatly impacted.

The tree diversity is just one of many reasons that led Thompson to choose Falls Church of all the different areas of urban forestry around the nation. In his first impressions of the City’s tree makeup, he also noticed how well the trees were maintained, which he attributes to the efforts of the city’s Green Space team.

“They are very dedicated and invested personally and professionally in the work they do, which has created such a well-maintained forest for us, and they definitely deserve the credit for that,” Thompson said. “They are very educated, very highly trained, and that was attractive to me in this position.”

As the City’s arborist, he is responsible for a staff of about 5,000 – trees, that is, which he sees not only as decoration, but as dutiful employees that purify our air and water, reduce noise pollution, and regulate temperature. And he is looking forward not only to getting to know his new leafy co-workers, but also to getting to know the people in the community who appreciate them.

“Something that my new boss, [Director of Engineering, Environmental Services] Bill Hicks, had pointed out to me is that he really liked working for the City of Falls Church because it is a small community, because it is tight knit,” Thompson said. “You really get to know the community. You aren’t just the government that comes in and makes a decision and does whatever it wants.”

While the day-to-day could include any number of tasks – consulting with developers, fielding tree maintenance concerns, having a say in bond or permit issues, updating the city’s list of trees unique for their size or age – he is particularly looking forward to learning more about the plants in Falls Church and the needs of its citizens.