Hundreds of volunteers brave wind, cold to plant trees

Soggy day great for saplings, but people had to adjust

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2011 

It would have been so easy for Dana Hitz to stay home Saturday and not plant trees.

The weather was miserable. Windy. Cold. And the prospect of getting out in the mud and planting trees with an injured foot — well, let's just say the whole scenario was not conducive to doing any favors for nature.

But there she was with her daughter Alena, a junior at Eastern Kentucky University, planting trees by a little tributary off Liberty Road and near The Shetlands subdivision. Hitz had wrapped a clear plastic garbage bag around her protective walking boot so it wouldn't get dirty, and off she went inserting seedlings into the muck.

"It's good for the environment, it's good for Lexington and it's good for the world," Dana Hitz said. "And we want to make Lexington a better place in the years to come."

"We've had worse weather than this, actually, so I'm not surprised at all that we're out here," Alena Hitz said. "I wouldn't expect anything less. I was raised to care for the environment."

Such is the commitment of the hundreds — that's right, hundreds — of folks who came out to plant trees as part of the Reforest the Bluegrass program. Since 1999, the cooperative effort of Lexington's water quality, urban forestry and parks and recreation programs has planted 185,000 tree seedlings and restored about 150 acres of floodplains. Corporate sponsors pick up much of the tab.

This year's goal was to plant 8,000 trees, said Tim Queary, Lexington's urban forester. If they weren't all planted Saturday, they would be planted over the next two weeks.

Queary wasn't surprised by the turnout, which he initially estimated at 500 volunteers, but then increased as the morning wore on and more people came.

"No matter what the weather conditions are, we still have volunteers that show up and do it," Queary said. "Not only do they come from Lexington but from all over Central Kentucky."

Amos Stone, silvaculturist with the Daniel Boone National Forest (a silvaculturist is a $10 word for a forest expert), said it was a perfect day for planting trees.

"It's overcast and cool, and your seedling roots don't dry out," Stone said. "That's a big problem when you're out in the sun."

And it did his forester's — ah, silvaculturist's — heart good to see parents and their kids out planting native sycamores, redbuds, Kentucky coffee trees and other native species.

"It's good to get kids started kind of early," Stone said. "You see families out here."

The trees will improve habitat for wildlife, filter pollutants and stabilize creek banks.

The day began on a sour note when overnight wind blew down a large tent at Liberty Elementary School that would have sheltered booths and exhibitors for Saturday's event.

"The ground was so saturated that some of the tent poles started pulling out of the ground, and then with the heavy wind gusts it bent some of the standing poles," Queary said.

But no harm, no foul. The exhibitors lined up near the school building. And volunteers came out in droves.

Among them was Angela Gonzales, a fourth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary, who planted trees with her 8-year-old son, Jackson.

"I personally think it's important because I want to teach him about taking care of the earth," Gonzales said. "I do that with my students, and it's fun as well. We've had a good time out here despite the rain and the mud and everything else."

As for Jackson, he took the long-range view.

"Lots of people are chopping down trees," he said, "and maybe in a generation or two this may be a forest, if enough of them grow and we don't get very many droughts."

Spoken like a budding silvaculturist.

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