TRAVERSE CITY — Nearly 120 students from The Greenspire School spent Earth Day getting up close and personal with Mother Earth as they dug into the dirt and planted 675 trees and shrubs at the DeYoung Natural Area.
Monday marked the second straight year Greenspire students planted trees at DeYoung, although the weather was a touch nicer this time around. Sarah Payette, Greenspire project based learning coordinator and assistant head of school, said her students planted 500 trees last year in cold and rainy conditions but remained undeterred.
This year students competed to see how many trees they could plant under blue skies with temperatures in the 70s.
“It feels nice to give back to the Earth,” Greenspire seventh grader and tree-planting committee ambassador Lindsay Hayes said. “Humans, as a whole, have done a lot of damage to the planet, and our feel like it is our job to give back.”
The 116 students plus another 50 or so volunteers worked with officials from the Leelanau Conservancy, the Conservation Resource Alliance, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Natural Resources Conservation Service on the project that will result in almost 5,000 trees being planted at DeYoung in the next two weeks.
Elijah Jacobs, also a seventh grader and ambassador at Greenspire, said he feels he and his classmates “accomplished something really great today.”
“Most of the trees are either dead or dying. So many trees are disappearing from disease and other things,” Jacobs said. “All these people are just really great people. I feel really good about it.”
The Leelanau Conservancy owns and manages DeYoung. The CRA provided the trees and shrubs made up of spruce, white and red pine, cedar, serviceberry and ninebark. The GT Band and NRCS provided expertise on where to plant and what to plant.
“This time of the year, people are really excited about getting outside and doing something, so it’s a great time to engage volunteers,” Becky Hill, natural areas and preserves manager with the Leelanau Conservancy, said. “It’s been really fun to see all of the different groups of people involved.”
Paul Kogelschatz, CRA watershed coordinator, said that about 80-90 percent of the 675 trees and shrubs planted should survive and take root. That percentage would be higher if the planting were done mechanically, but Kogelschatz said imprinting the importance of nature on a large group of children will have a much greater long-term impact on the environment.
“We’d rather see the kids out here. The 10 percent difference is worth losing a handful of trees to get these kids excited about conservation,” he said. “A lot of groups that we work with, they’ll plant around 50-100 trees. This is an impressive number, especially for this age group. This is a really cool project and really important.”
Melissa Witkowski, fish, soil and wildlife conservationist for the GT Band, said the day was “a little chaotic” but a “semi-organized chaos” that was well worth the effort.
“Grand Traverse Band’s philosophy is about seven generations, they always plan ahead for future generations,” she said. “Planting these trees, while some of us won’t get to enjoy them, our children’s children will be able to.”