Serious tree talk began in Erie County in 2020 in response to COVID-19, resulting in the ReLeaf initiative to plant one tree for every resident.
Vernon Peterson, executive director of the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park, said the pandemic coronavirus caused the cancellation of tree-related programs for local students. Discussions turned to other ways to promote tree planting.
“We had a huge goal of wanting to plant 275,000 trees in five years in Erie County,” said Peterson, who is also field coordinator for planting for ReLeaf.
ReLeaf is now one of LEAF’s main initiatives, Peterson said. And while he’s not sure the goal of 275,000 trees will be met within the suggested timeframe, he hopes it remains an ongoing project because of the importance of planting trees. ReLeaf’s mission is to “educate, inspire and empower residents of northwest Pennsylvania to positively impact the threat of climate change by planting trees in Erie County.” It’s also an opportunity to beautify community spaces outside of Frontier Park, which is located in the northwest part of Erie.
“If you want to take a concrete step in hedging global warming, there’s no easier way to do that than planting a tree,” Peterson said.
He said trees purify water and air.
“A tree that is even just 5 years old, it purifies the oxygen supply that three or four people would consume in a day,” he said.
Peterson said trees also can help property owners save on energy costs because trees provide cooling shade on hot days.
As they grow, trees also bear witness to the life, the changes, the history that occurs around them.
“We’ve roughly planted 20,000 trees in a two-year period,” he said.
Nearly 2,000 of those have gone to Erie’s public schools, Peterson said, with trees at every site except Edison Elementary, which is currently being considered for renovation or replacement. The school trees included native seedlings and saplings from 6 inches to 3 feet in height and a 200-tree fruit orchard behind JoAnna Connell, he said. He added that ReLeaf has also worked with parochial and private schools and is looking to expand to the Millcreek Township School District.
Peterson said the new trees at the schools have had a 70% to 75% success rate and those that did succumb to two- or four-legged creatures, mowers or other destroyers would be replaced.
Nearly 1,000 trees have been planted on Erie Housing Authority property, he said. City parks including Burton and Franklin also received trees. Several hundred trees went to Camp Glinodo in eastern Erie County and Camp Fitch in western Erie County, Peterson said. Numerous other organizations and sites have also welcomed trees.
ReLeaf generally does public tree giveaways in the spring and fall, he said, with fall being the best time to plant because summer watering concerns no longer exist.
“This spring, we gave away over 1,000 trees for the public to plant at their homes,” he said.
Anyone taking 10 or more trees was asked for their location so they could be mapped and tracked, as are the trees planted by ReLeaf.
“It’s been well received in the community,” Peterson said of the overall initiative.
To learn more, call 814-453-5323 or visit releaferie.org.
Contact Dana Massing at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ETNmassing.
5 tips for planting a tree
Sarah Peelman, city arborist for Erie, shared these tips for anyone wanting to plant a tree:
- Don’t plant the tree so deep its roots suffocate under the soil. Plant the top of the roots at the same height they were in the pot or ball and burlap.
- Make sure to water it during the summer months, especially during July and August and especially during its first and second summers.
- Mulch the tree root area. Grass absorbs nitrogen 80% faster than a baby tree so it might not get the nutrients it needs without mulch.
- When mulching, apply it like a donut around the tree and not like a volcano piled up against the tree. Mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep but a couple inches from the trunk so the bark doesn’t get soggy.
- Look up before you plant anything. Be sure your tree has enough room to grow, especially if there are utility lines overhead.
Earth Day / Arbor Day / other events
Earth Day is April 22 and Arbor Day is April 29. Various local organizations have free environment-related events going on this month including:
∎ International Recycling Group, newBin, the Erie SeaWolves and Spaeder Electric are holding an Earth Day cleanup on April 22 from 10 am to 1 pm at the Pennsylvania Soldiers ‘& Sailors’ Home, 560 E. Third St. People can register to participate at bit.ly/3viJcsT; those who do not sign up online can register in-person starting at 9:30 am Organizers said masks must be worn on the home property.
∎ Sustainable Behrend will host a free screening of the 2015 documentary film “The True Cost,” which explores the environmental impact of the fashion industry, on April 22 at 3 pm in Bruno’s Café at Penn State Behrend, 4701 College Drive, Harborcreek Township. Three pieces of art made from recycled materials will be on display there throughout the day. Also, volunteers will head into Wintergreen Gorge at 5 pm to pick up litter. Meet in the Prishak parking lot. 814-898-6000, behrend.psu.edu
∎ Presque Isle State Park’s spring cleanup will take place April 23. Volunteers can show up at the Rotary Pavilion at any time between 7 and 10 am to receive a cleanup location, gloves and bags. Lunch will be provided from 10 am to noon. 814-833-7424, events.dcnr.pa.gov/event/presque_isle_spring_cleanup
∎ “Invest in our Planet” is the theme of the Erie Earth Day celebration April 23 from noon to 2 pm in Perry Square. There will be an electric vehicle show, community and business information tables, and more. facebook.com/erieearthday
∎ “The Ripple Effect” will take place April 23 at 4 pm, starting at Dobbins Landing and going to the Erie Maritime Museum, 150 East Front St. This is Erie’s part of National Water Dance, an event in which dancers at 65 locations across the US will perform simultaneously the same dance passage designed to create climate awareness, particularly of the world’s water resources. Erie’s performance will involve dancers from local troupes. There will also be exhibits and performances of art, poetry, graphic design and other forms of expression as well as environmental exhibits. bit.ly/3OnLhMO, or email email@example.com
∎ Mercyhurst University’s Sister Maura Smith Earth Day lecture will feature Lisa Britton, director of sales and marketing and sustainability champion for Industrial Louvers Inc., a manufacturer of custom architectural metal products. Birtton will discuss “Creating a Healthier Future Using a Holistic Approach to Sustainability” on April 27 at 7 pm in the Mercy Heritage Room at the university, 501 E. 38th St. www.mercyhurst.edu/news/earth-day-lecture-addresses-holistic-approach-to-sustainability
∎ An Arbor Day event will be hosted by the City of Erie, ReLeaf and the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House on April 30 from 10 am to 2 pm at the Art House, 201 E. 10th St. Organizers said there will be a tree giveaway, tree plantings, demonstrations and crafts. bit.ly/3v4VXZf