Planting Trees and Building Community

Trees are an important part of our community. Living in East Hills, I have the good fortune to live on a shady, tree-lined street. Many of our trees are towering giants that were likely planted when the neighborhood was developed in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, as trees age, they die. It’s part of nature. If we want to continue enjoying shady streets, it is important that we as citizens continue to plant and care for our trees to grow a rich, vibrant, urban forest canopy.

Recognizing the loss of trees, Carol Moore initiated a tree planting effort in East Hills in 2006. Our first planting involved literally many hundreds of hours of volunteer work in fund-raising, identifying planting sites, selecting tree species, working with property owners, recruiting volunteers, soliciting media coverage, and convincing the mayor to plant the first tree. But it was worth it. Six years later, those small maple and cherry trees are already providing significant shade throughout our neighborhood.

After that herculean effort, we retreated to a less volunteer-intensive (but more expensive) route; we raised donated funds to hire local nurseries to plant an average of 10 trees a year. Subsequently, we would enlist the support of the neighbors and homeowners to help water and care for these trees. While these efforts were overwhelmingly successful, the opportunity for community participation was much smaller.

This year, we once again returned to a volunteer-based planting– because Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP) made volunteer planting more feasible in terms of both cost and logistics. Moreover, volunteer plantings help to connect neighbors and establish community ownership. There are few simpler ways to improve your street than to establish a tree which will be a testament to your effort for decades.

FGRP’s support ranged from providing advice on species selection and planting sites, to purchasing the trees, arranging delivery, and providing tools and tree planting expertise, including that of FGRP’s Citizen Foresters. On one May 20th evening, we planted 10 trees with the help of FGRP staff (Lee Mueller and Blake Hamilton) and 16 volunteers, including three trained Citizen Foresters.

Perhaps most importantly, this planting event reminded me of the value of tree planting in strengthening community. Our volunteers ranged from property owners who have been active in the community for more than 25 years to young renters whom we met for the first time. These diverse volunteers tackled the tree planting challenge with contagious energy, creating a memorable, fun, and rewarding shared experience.

Through it all, the planting offered us the opportunity to talk, laugh, share stories, and meet new neighbors. Through combined efforts, we strengthened our connections to our community. Our exceptional neighbors reminded me that when we plant trees together, we build neighborhood friendships AND make a lasting contribution to our community.

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