We support rural and urban forests and promote knowledge and understanding of the value of trees for present and future generations.

Land Acknowledgement

The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards acknowledge that the Piedmont, where we learn, teach and volunteer, is the traditional territory of the Siouan Indians of the Monacan and Manahoac tribes. We offer our respect to their past, present and emerging members.


The non-profit organization, Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards (CATS), grew out of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) tree steward training classes of 2003 and 2004. VCE agent, Peter Warren, administered these two classes, with Adam Downing, VCE Forestry Agent. Following the end of the 2004 class, no other classes were offered and tree steward projects and activities were at a minimum. 

In 2007, Jacki Vawter approached Peter Warren to inquire about putting a class together, administered by graduates of the previous two classes. He provided contact details for past graduates and encouraged Vawter to proceed. Upon contacting every tree steward, six others were willing to meet and develop a tree steward community in this area. Along with Jackie Vawter, the other tree stewards were:

Phil Stokes
Sue Knapp-Steen
Leslie Weinhardt
Rick Helms
Dorothy Tompkins
Joan Payne-Currier

During 2007, the seven worked to create a training class for new tree stewards. They met with Virginia Department of Forestry (VDoF) Paul Revell, who offered the classroom of the VDoF for our training and provided contact information for possible presenters and existing tree steward groups in Virginia. We visited the Lynchburg Tree Stewards for a day. They were welcoming, gave us tools and materials, and showed us their projects. Although small in membership, they were enthusiastic and eagerly answered our questions.

First Training Class

With support from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office of Albemarle/Charlottesville, Piedmont Master Gardeners Association, and The Virginia Urban Forestry Council (Trees Virginia), the first 14-week training class was offered in the spring of 2008.

The 2008 CATS training class had 30 people enrolled. Fourteen of the 30 enrollees were master gardeners. Many of the 2008 training class graduates became dedicated and active tree stewards, contributing to the leadership of the organization.

Development of CATS as an Organization

Following the training class of 2008, a few students from the class and the original seven “founding members” were interested in developing a tree steward organization. A Steering Committee was led by Jack Hardgrove, a 2008 class trainee, to create a mission statement, goals, and officers with terms and responsibilities. We elected to structure our organization with three basic committees—Projects, Communication, and Education. We determined that 25 would be the number of yearly volunteer hours to achieve “certification” as a tree steward, and membership criteria would be open to anyone successfully completing the tree steward training.

The CATS Organizational Document was approved by the assembled members at a meeting in July of 2008. It was revised a number of times in 2008 to 2010 and became the basis for the CATS Bylaws, approved by the membership in December 2013. 

Our 2008 CATS Board of Directors:

President: Jacki Vawter
President-Elect: Phil Stokes
Treasurer: Maud Henne
Recording Secretary: Terri Keffert
Projects Chair: Jack O’Leary
Communication Chair: Rosemary Connelly
Education Chairs: Pat and Steve Schnatterly

Memo of Agreement with VCE

In 2013 CATS and the VA Cooperative Extension office in Charlottesville began discussions to clarify our relationship. Since supporting our initial efforts to begin as an organization, the support was examined from the VCE point of view for project management, use of office copy machine, volunteer hour record keeping and room reservations. If the relationship was to be maintained between CATS and VCE, then CATS members would have to become a VCE Master Gardener, attend their tree steward training, and be responsible to Virginia Tech policies on risk management and demographic record keeping. By June 2013, our then President, Jay Gillenwater, and VCE Extension Agent Cathryn Kloetzli, signed a formal “Memorandum of Understanding.”  The effect was a disassociation with VCE which provided CATS more autonomy to take on any project tailored to meet the needs of the City of Charlottesville and the surrounding counties, as well as conduct Tree Steward trainings. 

Non-Profit Status

CATS was limited in receiving grants from organizations that require a federal non-profit status. In addition, sizable donations to CATS would occur if we had such a designation. CATS member Cynthia Foulke volunteered to make application for a 501(c)3 to IRS. By-laws were developed from our Organizational Document of 2008 and approved by the membership. We received our non-profit status from the IRS in 2014.

Virginia Department of Forestry and Trees Virginia Affiliation

Each year Congress is responsible for appropriating funds to federal agencies, including the Forest Service. Congress writes appropriations bills that specify how much money each agency receives and how they can spend it. CATS is affiliated with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDoF) and the Urban and Forestry Council, better known as Trees Virginia. We benefit from various grant programs including the Virginia Trees for Clean Water (VTCW) program and Trees Virginia Mini-Grants because of the federal funding. It’s important to know that our volunteer hours contribute to the calculation of VDoF’s funding from the annual appropriation. The Inflation Reduction Act’s $1.5 billion allocation to the Urban and Community Forestry Program will help us plant more trees across our communities, with a focus on overlooked and disadvantaged areas.

Other benefits from these affiliations include the allotment of storage space, housing of our tree nursery, as well providing space in the Geology Department at VDoF for our library. Our Tree Steward Training benefits from the essential downloadable training Manual from the Trees Virginia website.

Grants Received


Through the years CATS has been awarded numerous grants to support our community projects and activities. We would like
to thank and acknowledge the generosity of all those grantors.

As of 7/1/2023 CATS has received grants from those listed below with the number of grants awarded from each.

    • VDOF – Virginia Trees for Clean Water: 5 grants
    • Ballyshannon: 3 grants
    • BamaWorks: 2 grants
    • Caplin Foundation: 2 grants
    • C’ville ReLeaf: 1 grant
    • Trees Virginia Mini Grant: 15 grants

The grants received supported various projects including:

    • Monticello Gateway- Rt 20 Median Planting
    • Belmont I – neighborhood tree planting
    • Belmont II – neighborhood tree planting
    • Trees at Albemarle Co Office Building – 35 understory trees planted
    • CATS Nursery operations
    • CATS lending library
    • Tree Planting in the 10th & Page area of C’ville
    • Natural Area Restoration
    • Community Tree Voucher
    • Tree Labels for 40 trees in VDOF Arboretum
    • Additional Native Trees for VDOF Arboretum
    • Ferns for Forest habitat restoration
    • Enhancing the Tree Stewards Training
    • Purchase of ISA brochures
    • Canopy Enhancement of the VDOF/CATS Arboretum –35 trees planted
    • Canopy Enhancement for Water Quality
    • Canopy Enhancement at Darden Towe Park – 59 trees planted
    • Canopy Enhancement at Mint Springs – 28 trees planted
    • Canopy Enhancement at Chris Green Lake – 25 trees planted
    • Increased C’ville and Albemarle County public education 

Learn more about our Early projects here.