By Rennie Gaither
Visitors to the kickoff of the Creative Enterprise Zone’s Chroma Zone Mural and Art Festival this spring may have noticed a new project launching amidst the murals and festival activities: The building of three community gravel bed tree nurseries.
Volunteers from St. Anthony Park Community Council’s Environment Committee and the CEZ rolled up their sleeves, grabbed shovels and pitched in to help build out the nurseries that will grow 100 trees to be planted in boulevards in south St Anthony Park this fall.
The bed build was an important first step for the 100 Trees Initiative, which was developed by CEZ vice chairman Ben Shardlow, and shaped by input from the environment committee and other partners. The goal of the project is to expand the future tree canopy in south Saint Anthony Park using gravel bed nurseries, an established best practice for community tree projects pioneered by the University of Minnesota.
By installing relatively inexpensive bare root tree stock in gravel beds in the spring, and watering them through the growing season, the trees develop fine root structures that help them get established and thrive before they are planted in the fall. Using bare root stock saves money, and the root growth offers dramatic long-term tree growth benefits compared with container-grown.
Shardlow and his wife Kristin shepherded the day’s tasks as the gravel beds were made, providing tools, encouragement and much-relished refreshments to volunteers enduring arduous 90-degree heat to load scores of wheelbarrows full of pea gravel.
Undaunted, District 12 Environment Committee volunteers Michael Russelle, Manu and Clara Junemann, Mohit Kumar, Caroline Gaither and myself and several others completed the task in less than four hours. The team took pride in knowing our work will help reduce the urban heat island effect due to climate change and will improve air and water quality—something bountiful, established tree canopies can provide.
Since that hot day in late May, project leaders and volunteers have continued working on installing the trees and irrigation systems, and preparing for a big community planting day this fall.
The CEZ has worked on the logistics and relationships to make the project work. For the trees, Bailey Nursery graciously donated the bare root stock. For the sites, CEZ Executive Director Angela Casselton recruited commercial property owners to host the beds and provide water as in-kind sponsors. These site hosts include Landbridge Ecological, Deneen Pottery, Bang Brewing, Spotweld and Exeter Group.
Landbridge Ecological has also provided technical assistance and logistical support for the project. Other advisors have included Davey Tree and the University of Minnesota Urban Forestry Outreach & Research Lab. Transition Town All Saint Anthony Park helped raise awareness and recruit volunteers. All of these partners have been essential in helping this project take root.
Although many individuals and groups dreamt of planting trees in south St. Anthony Park, it was the Strategic Renewal meeting of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation in February that sparked this project. The foundation endeavors to build and strengthen strategic partnerships with community organizations in an effort to address community challenges.
Along with the tree nursery build, the District 12 Environment Committee hopes to play a supportive, advisory role in the 100 Trees Initiative, as well as to help organize volunteers for the project’s tree plantings in the fall.
Ultimately, the success of the 100 Trees Initiative depends on community support and the CEZ is recruiting sponsors for individual trees to defray project costs.
A $50 tax-deductible donation equals sponsorship of one tree. Sponsors will be able to dedicate their trees to someone they care about on custom tree tags that will follow the trees from the gravel beds to their future homes in a neighborhood boulevard. CEZ is also recruiting volunteers to help plant the trees in neighborhood boulevards this fall.
For both opportunities, and to learn more about the project, visit: https://creativeenterprisezone.org/trees. Check out the latest St. Anthony Park Community Council news and events at https://sapcc.org.
Rennie Gaither is a member of St. Anthony Park Community Council’s Environment Committee.