Building Community by Planting Urban Forests

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Father Thomas and Denise Bogans of Our Lady of Perpetual Help kick off the church’s tree-planting event. Photo: Casey Trees
What’s new in Wards 7 and 8 of late? There’s a lot of construction happening, but have you noticed all of the young trees that are being planted?

Neighborhoods east of the river are recognizing the many advantages that trees bring to open areas. Thanks to help from DC-based Casey Trees, some 1,000 trees were planted at 30 locations across the two wards in 2019, with more to be planted in 2020.

Citywide Challenge
DC has a goal of reaching 40% tree cover by 2032. Casey Trees is an urban forestry nonprofit established in 2002 to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital and help attain that goal. The organization has planted over 25,000 trees across the District, and it provides trees to anyone in the District at no or low cost. According to a Casey Trees report, the District had a 38% tree cover in 2018, up 3% from 2010.

Tree planting requires physical work, and Casey Trees likes to involve the community in the tree-planting events. Last year, over 1,600 local residents, including almost 1,000 youth, participated in tree-planting activities. Trees were planted at a variety of locations all across the two Wards – from schools to church properties to public spaces.

Our Lady Plants New Trees in Ward 8
Over the summer, congregants from Ward 8’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help contacted Casey Trees about the possibility of planting trees to provide privacy and a noise shield for a community gathering area located near a main road. Casey Trees foresters visited the property to develop a design and determine the best native species for the site. As the congregation’s land is located on top of a huge hill (with a spectacular view of the District!), water-loving species were included in the design to mitigate stormwater runoff and erosion. A total of 88 trees – a mixture of native elm, oak, sycamore, juniper, cypress and sweetgum – were planted. Members of the congregation, along with Casey Trees staff and volunteers, provided the labor for the planting – which required a fair amount of strength.

Paul Corragio, a Casey Trees urban forester, oversaw the operation. He notes that “this was one of my favorite tree-planting projects. Congregants had a lot of enthusiasm for the trees and the work involved, and it was contagious. The church pastor, deacons and really the entire parish were incredibly appreciative of our work. They shared their deep roots and history in the community, and how they wanted the trees to become a part of the community fabric. It was hard work but a lot of fun.”

St. Luke Catholic Church’s Father Cornelius joins Green Compass’s Nicole Whalen and Inocencio Quinones in the church’s tree-planting project. Photo: Green CompassSt. Luke’s Steps Up in Ward 7
Meanwhile, members of Ward 7’s St. Luke Catholic Church also caught the tree-planting bug. In late October, congregants gathered with Casey Trees staff and volunteers to plant over 30 trees on church property as part of a voluntary stormwater management project developed and paid for by Green Compass, a DC-based clean-tech company that is helping the District meet its sustainability goals by installing green infrastructure and clean energy projects.

Nicole Whalen, the CEO and founder of Green Compass, helped organize the project. “We designed a green infrastructure project that manages some 20,000 gallons of water and saves the Church thousands of dollars on their water bill,” she explains. “The trees are a key part of the project. Since we collaborated with Casey Trees, it was a no-cost project for the church. And, the tree planting event itself was a great way to engage the community. About 20 parishioners showed up early on a Saturday morning to plant trees – including Father Cornelius! It was truly an interactive and multigenerational event, with people of all ages showing up to plant trees. In just over two hours, we created a new urban tree canopy. It was really inspiring!”

Coraggio hopes other groups across Wards 7 and 8 will take advantage of this Casey Trees programming, which offers several grant options for homeowners, schools, community institutions and even as memorials. See https://caseytrees.org/plant/ for more information about all of the tree planting programs that Casey Trees offers.

And, don’t forget, spring is a busy tree-planting season, and Casey Trees is always looking for volunteers. You can sign up to plant trees as an individual or as a part of a group outing at https://caseytrees.org/volunteer/. Be a part of making DC greener!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also the vice chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.