When Friends Plant Trees
Story and Photos by Ted Shorack
With work gloves and bright safety vests, volunteers followed Mayor Kitty Piercy and Planting Coordinator Jeff Lanza to the first hole in the ground. Assisted by others, Lanza placed a young Oregon White Oak inside and children volunteers swarmed with shovels to bury the roots with mulch. This was the beginning of the first Arbor Day event for the Eugene chapter of Friends of Trees (FOT) at Jefferson Park.
What was once Eugene Tree Foundation has become the local branch of the Portland-based group, which has been conducting tree plantings since last year. Members of the organization were joined on the sunny April 7 day by volunteers from REI, NW Natural, Hummingbird Wholesale, EWEB, members of Kappa Alpha Theta and others. The objective was to plant trees along the southern edge of the Lane County Fairgrounds, in Jefferson Park and street-side in the Jefferson-Westside neighborhood.
Mayor Piercy gave a speech in the park before everyone got started, touting the benefits of tree canopies, both to the ecosystem and to the overall health of communities. At her side was Mark Snyder, an urban forester with the City of Eugene. Snyder worked with FOT in determining which type of trees would be suitable in the designated areas. “We have to be real smart,” he said. “Matching the right tree to the right place.”
Volunteers carried Valley Ponderosa trees in wheel-burrows to assigned holes along the Fern Ridge Trail, near Amazon Creek. These were positioned near the flow of the creek to begin addressing heavy storm runoff during Eugene’s rainy months. According to Snyder, trees can help slow down the rush of rainwater by catching it before falling to the ground and carrying pollutants into waterways. “That first flush of water that goes off the streets and into the creeks and into the rivers carries most of the pollutant loads,” he said. “If you don’t have trees that can be a real problem.” He stressed the negative effects it can have on the salmon population in the Willamette River, which the Amazon Creek flows into.
Also on the trail and in the park, were nearly thirty Kappa Alpha Theta members, planting Oregon white oak trees and California black oak, many for the first time. “It was difficult at first,” said Geena Grzeca, a sorority member. “But it’s fun to help out.” The UO chapter partners with local community groups through a service committee. “This presented itself as a perfect opportunity,” said Chelsea Obrist.
Along with the sorority sisters in the park and out on the trail, were many young families, their children smiling and enjoying shoveling mulch onto the burlap-wrapped roots of the young trees.
Erik Burke, Eugene director of FOT, was bouncing between different planting crews throughout the day. He seemed to be doing everything at once; loading up mulch, answering phone calls, helping carry trees. “We build community through planting and caring for trees,” he said about the organization’s core values. Burke described training crew leaders who live in the neighborhood where trees are going to be planted, and in many cases have trees being planted on their property. “It brings people together in that way and it makes them more invested in the trees.”
Burke and five other neighborhood coordinators went door to door in the Jefferson-Westside neighborhood. Forty-five households signed up to have trees planted in front of their house in the narrow strip adjacent to the street. The first 35 to sign up received trees paid for by the City of Eugene, the rest were provided by FOT.
Some of the neighborhood’s new Arbor Day trees were delivered by bicycles, a first for the Eugene chapter of FOT; It has long been a practice for those in Portland.
From the staging area in the park, volunteers loaded up trees in bike trailers and cargo carriers and then biked slowly on a zigzag course to the neighborhood spots. Helping out with the bike-planting was the UO outdoors program as well as the bike delivery service: Hummingbird Wholesale, who’s volunteers brought along bikes they use on the job.
Kitty-corner from Cornucopia’s west 17th location, Ponce Christie, an employee of Hummingbird Wholesale, was busy holding trees in place and pouring buckets of water for recently planted trees. “It’s fun to ride around with trees,” he said about his experience with transporting them on bike. He added that people were giving him a lot of strange looks and he got a kick out of it.
Burke emphasized that the Arbor Day event was a test-run in bike-planting for the Eugene chapter and the organization plans on using bicycles for transporting the trees more in the future.
After volunteers had gotten their hands muddy and might have gotten a little too much sun, NW Natural provided barbeque and refreshments for them. Those who had spent hours shoveling and digging, sat down in the grass and chatted about how beautiful the day was and the experience they had just had.
Burke said that the organization plans on expanding the volunteer base to every neighborhood in Eugene and Springfield. Low-income areas with less canopy cover are the highest priority at the moment, but tree planting and management in those areas depends on volunteers living there, which FOT is trying to organize.