Sunday, April 20, 2008


The April 19 planting was a wild success with 383 volunteers planting over 13,000 seedlings. Here's what the Mankato Free Press had to say:

Hundreds turn out to plant thousands of trees

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

NORTH MANKATO— The saplings didn't look like much, just foot-long twigs with a few straggly roots attached.

It took some imagination, a fair amount of faith and a real aptitude for patience to envision the twigs turning into a forest of towering cottonwood, maple and basswood trees.

Sort of like the imagination required to believe that a handful of local environmentalists could raise thousands of dollars to buy trees and get hundreds of area residents to give up a Saturday to plant more than 13,000 of them.

Sort of like the faith required to believe that slaving away on a cool, damp April day in Mankato and North Mankato might make a difference in slowing the rate of global climate change.

Sort of like the patience required to reach a personal goal of 100 seedlings planted in the belief that those 100 might eventually be joined by 999,900 others.

Those attitudes, along with a great doses of optimism, were prevalent Saturday as the Million Tree Project got underway along Highway 14.

“You just want to shake your head and say ‘Fantastic!’,” said Tom Hagen, looking up at the dozens of volunteers scattered across the steep hillside north of the highway. Hagen and Malda Farnham, along with others involved in the Envision 2020 community planning process, were the ones with the abundance of imagination at the beginning of the Million Tree Project. Their vision was to plant a million trees in the two cities, reforesting areas that had been needlessly cleared of trees during construction projects and park development.

They raised money from individuals and corporate donors, bought 15,000 saplings at 50- cents apiece and struggled to persuade the Minnesota Department of Transportation to change the way they managed the Highway 14 roadside. Then they put the word out that they needed volunteers to come out on April 19 and put the trees in the ground.

And 383 did. Along with another 86 school kids and parents that planted some trees on Friday, it all added up to 9,847 hours of volunteer labor and about 13,500 trees in the ground.

That they didn’t get all 15,000 planted wasn’t because they ran out of volunteers willing to work.

They ran out of places to put them. “Not bad for a day’s work,” Hagen said Saturday afternoon, sounding almost giddy. “... I’m feeling great.” Hagen praised all of the volunteers but was particularly effusive in his compliments to the Minnesota State University athletes and their coaches who showed up in waves throughout the day — the soccer squad, the hockey players, the football team.

But there were also older volunteers, including some who just directed traffic to the sites, which also included a large project along the south side of the highway near Good Counsel.

“I’m pushing 80 pretty hard,” said Dave Boyce, who was putting people onto the school bus that ferried groups to the North Mankato planting site.

Boyce said he got involved because he feels an obligation to improve the environment and he has faith that everyone can make a difference.

“It’s the sort of thing we have to do,” Boyce said. “If we don’t make some kind of steps to clean things up, it’ll get worse. That won’t bother me a whole lot, but it sure will my grandkids.”

Bruce Birkemeyer, a retired teacher and selfdescribed tree nut, greeted the volunteers when they got off the bus at the North Mankato planting site.

Birkemeyer demonstrated how the saplings should be put in the ground, then put the people to work.

He described the cool, cloudy day, the damp soil and the rain in the longrange forecast as “perfect conditions” for planting.

“We lucked out,” he said.

Birkemeyer is confident that, with patience, people will see a dramatic change in the look of the highway.

He expects half of the saplings to die with many eaten by deer or rabbits.

But the remaining half, eventually, will make a diverse and natural-appearing forest.

“Twenty years from now, it should look really nice,” he said.

More patience was being demonstrated by Alexis Just, 9, and her mother Mindy. They’d been at it for nearly two hours and had planted 50 trees — half of their goal — and they intended to stick around until they reached triple figures.

A member of Centenary United Methodist Church, which supplied a nice group of volunteers, Alexis Just is worried about global warming. And her mother wanted to support her daughter’s desire to make a difference. “ I just wanted to plant trees so we could have more oxygen,” Alexis said.

“And more places for animals, too.” The little saplings won’t be emitting much oxygen or sequestering much carbon anytime soon. But that could change with time and growth.

“And maybe we’ll be back here next year planting more,” Mindy Just said.

“I’d be OK with that,” Alexis said.

So would Hagen.

“We start small, show that it can work,” he said, “and it may turn into something quite large.”

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