Joe Poor has 120 apple trees looking for a good home.

Poor, chair of the Haines Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee, wants that to be in Haines.

Poor was at the Juneau Costco when he noticed employees hauling off some tired-looking trees. He asked some questions, found out they hadn’t been selling, and secured them as a donation to Haines. He pulled away with two pallets full in his trailer, then got Alaska Marine Lines to donate shipping.

“The trees were looking pretty tired, and had already blossomed. I needed to find a place to plant them as soon as possible,” he said.

Turner Construction agreed to let Poor plant the trees in a pile of topsoil in its yard until he found a permanent home. Some friends helped Poor dig trenches and soak the roots with a solution designed to revive stressed plants. According to Poor, they’re looking better every day.

Poor wants to make Haines a more popular visitor destination and thinks the visual beauty of blossoming trees and novelty of producing local fruit could be a draw for tourists. He envisions colonnades of blossoming trees on Second Avenue entering town, along Main Street and at Fort Seward.

“It would be another reason for people to come to Haines,” boosting the economy and enhancing downtown beautification, he said. “We could be the apple capital of Alaska.”

The first trees were planted May 22 and Poor has been combing the Internet and consulting experienced gardeners for advice.

Fort Seward booster Annette Smith has talked to property owners about planting a row of trees along Portage Street, which extends uphill from the Port Chilkoot Dock, and is considering locations on the Parade Grounds.

She said she’s worried about the abuse the trees may suffer from browsing moose, snow plows and winter recreation, however. “I tried a few apple trees but every year the moose would eat them down to bare sticks,” she says. “The parade grounds are used so much in the winter time for sledding, snowmachining and snow storage. I’m afraid they wouldn’t survive.”

Debra Schnabel, who helped with landscaping at the rebuilt Haines School, said she was discouraged from getting fruit trees for the campus by people who said they would attract birds whose droppings would create a mess.

Cross-country coach Liam Cassidy, who has worked in a commercial apple orchard, said the town should consider a cider press. He points to an explosion of blossoms on apple trees this spring. “I think you’re going to see a lot of apples in Haines this year. There are lots of blossoms and good pollinating conditions” including little interference by wind and rain.

In fact, apples are rooted in the town’s history. Pioneer horticulturist Charlie Anway started the first commercial apple orchard in Alaska here and gave one of those trees to Alice Bromley, the former Presbyterian minister’s wife, in 1925. The same tree, a Yellow Transparent, grows outside the Sheldon Museum and attracts eager school kids gathering its apples each fall.

Rob Goldberg planted his first fruit tree, a sweet cherry, in 1988 and now has 40 fruit trees growing around his home on Mud Bay Road, including some of the same variety that Poor recently purchased.

“You need the right location, with lots of sun and plenty of mulch,” Goldberg said. Some years produce more fruit than others. In 2006, Goldberg harvested over 800 pounds of cherries, apples, plums and pears. Last year, however, poor pollination left him with few cherries and only three boxes of apples.

Goldberg is planning a 16-foot-high greenhouse to grow 25 additional fruit trees this year. “In a greenhouse I can control the water, and protect the trees from wind, snow and animals,” he said. “I think more apple trees in Haines is a great idea. Let’s show people we can grow our food right here.”

Poor acquired eight dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that will grow to a maximum of 15 feet. Goldberg is growing two of the varieties – the semi-dwarf Norland and Lodi Big Transparent. The mix of trees is important to aid in pollination each season. While some of the trees are self pollinating, others need to be pollinated from the blossoms of another variety.

Poor emphasized his project is still in the planning stage. “There are lots of pieces to be put together,” he said. He’d like to see the trees go in a public spot where they would boost the town’s economy. Land ownership, right-of-way restrictions and snow removal will figure into their final destination, he said.

For now, he’s watering the trees every other day and talking to as many people as possible. “People seem eager to help and everyone has ideas of where these trees should go,” he said. “I just want them to help make Haines even more beautiful.”