‘Tree army’ plants 500 trees, connects with environment
ROGERS CITY — A pile of tiny trees — and the willing hands that patted them into the ground — could someday protect Lake Huron and the people who love it, environmental workers believe.
On Saturday, about 30 people dug holes, dumped fertilizer, filled in dirt, spread mulch, and carried water for about 500 tree saplings planted in a patch of sandy soil south of the Little League fields in Rogers City.
Organized by the Presque Isle Conservation District and nonprofit environmental agency Huron Pines, the planting will, as the trees grow, provide filtration via the trees’ roots for stormwater running across the wetland into Lake Huron.
Such hands-on activities also forge an emotional connection between residents and their environment, organizers said.
“Look at you. You’re a small army,” said Brittany VanderWall, district forester with the Presque Isle Conservation District, encouraging the eager workers on Saturday. “The Rogers City tree army.”
Huron Pines provided funding for the balsam fir, white cedar, and white birch planted beside dozens of pink, orange, and chartreuse flags spread across the property owned by Carmeuse, who authorized the planting.
“Holy schmoley, that’s a lot of flags,” said a participant, setting out with a handful of small trees and a wheelbarrow of Dairy Doo.
VanderWall instructed volunteers on hole depth and planting methods, reminding them to water the saplings thoroughly using water from Lake Huron.
Shovels sunk easily into the sandy soil, sparsely covered with scraggly ground cover and the occasional spindly evergreen tree.
The new trees may never grow heartier than the trees already in residence, VanderWall said.
Some may die, and the rest may stagnate at their current size for several years — but, she said, the survivors will eventually grow and help protect the lake from chemicals carried in stormwater runoff.
“I know one tree is one tree,” VanderWall said. “But every little bit makes a difference, right?”
Digging his shovel into soil he said resembled cat litter, Indian Lakes resident Doug Davidson said he drove to Rogers City just to help plant the trees.
Huron Pines has helped him make his own property sustainable and healthy for the environment, and now he tries to help the organization in its work elsewhere, he said.
Some of the day’s young volunteers may someday be able to walk with their own children among the trees they planted, Davidson said.
Events like Saturday’s tree planting aren’t only about the trees, said Amy Nowakowski, coastal program manager for Huron Pines.
The Rogers City planting served as one of the first events in a new Huron Pines effort, the Protect Wild Places program, which seeks to build engagement by physically connecting people with the outdoor spaces around them.
The volunteers’ willingness to give up a Saturday to plant trees shows that people in Rogers City have an emotional investment in their lakes and rivers, Nowakowski said.
“I think they really care,” she said. “They love where they live.”
Rogers City resident Abby Johnson, patting mulch around young trees with her daughter, plants about 1,000 trees each year herself.
Planting a tree means looking beyond the present, she said.
“Anyone who plants a tree plants with hope,” Johnson said. “You don’t ever plant a tree if you aren’t hopeful about the future.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.