Get Dirty and Make a Difference: ReLeaf Michigan Director Talks About Tree Planting Efforts
(Liam Feeney, May 15, 2022)
Ann Arbor, MI – Michigan has a tree planting problem and ReLeaf Michigan is here to fix it. Founded in 1988 they have made it their mission to “make Michigan healthier, one tree at a time.” 30,000 trees later, the work continues. The group is based in Ann Arbor, but has planted trees in many local communities, including Oak Park, Royal Oak, Rochester Hills, Novi, Pontiac, Clarkston, Lake Orion and others.
Through their efforts they not only help the communities they plant their trees but educate them as well so that people in that community would have the know-how to plant and maintain their own trees. They offer workshops across the state as well as online resources.
Through their process they hope to combat the issues plaguing the Michigan ecosystem including invasive moss that has decimated populations of local trees in addition to commercial deforestation. The group says 4,000 acres of trees are lost each year in Michigan. The state also facing a loss in Northern Michigan, where over 2,000 acres of woodland was ablaze in a wildfire.
Planting trees isn’t just about scenery. Speaking to Melinda Jones, the executive director of ReLeaf, she explained the many health benefits including better moods when around trees and even mentioned, and that doctors were now recommending children to play around trees to improve their moods as well.
But rather than just hearing their mission statement and goals we decided to get some first hand accounts for the process and impact ReLeaf has had on over 500 communities across Michigan.
Through donations, grants, and membership dues, ReLeaf works with municipalities to host tree plantings in their local parks other public areas like the space between sidewalks and streets. ReLeaf often helps by funding fifty percent of the supplies and equipment while the community funds the other half.
“We work with urban as well as rural areas to get trees planted,” Jones said. “We are trying to increase the overall canopy of in the state so we try to get wherever possible.”
Since there is such a wide scope of terrains and climates they cover across the state the next step is identifying the right trees to plant that not only can prosper but will also benefit the community the most. This is where the expertise ReLeaf Michigan has built over the years comes into play as they have an arborist take part in every plant to not only pick out the right trees but the right areas to plant these trees as well.
“All the trees we plant are on public property,” Mrs. Jones said, “that way the people planting get this connection to the community from the trees they planted there.” These arborists are pillars in this whole process as Janice Hausman, on the board for the Beverly Hills Park and Rec, can attest to. “We loved the arborist we had,” she said, “we even brought him back later on to help us with another tree planting outside of ReLeaf and he was able to help us out even more with another tree planting we had.”
After the area is figured out and the arborist and community leaders have agreed upon a tree it’s time for volunteers. ReLeaf helps with the recruiting of volunteers as a part of their efforts, putting out markers on their events calendar for different plantings they have scheduled throughout the year.
“We typically do plants in the spring and fall averaging about seven hundred and fifty trees a year,” Jones said.
Once everything is set up it’s time to plant. “We like to make it a family oriented event. We have light refreshments provided as well as a tree planting demo done by our arborist before we start,” said Jones. “We like to say ‘get dirty and make a difference’. It’s a really good way to give back to the community and help the community as a whole.”
But they don’t simply plant the trees and leave, they mark the date on their calendars and come back a year later to check on them and make sure they are thriving.
The community tree-planting events have had a wide impact on the people of Michigan, inspiring people such as Kay Sichender to help volunteer time and time again.
“I was on the board for Ann Arbor back in 2016 and we used ReLeaf to try and connect people to our trees and get some more planted in the community.” Since her first initial contact with ReLeaf she has gone on to be one of the many experts that help ReLeaf achieve its goals serving now as one of the quality control managers.
“I also help organize and recruit volunteers. It’s really a great organization that helps out the communities around the state.” ReLeaf doesn’t just stop at planting trees as they also are creators of the “Michigan Tree Huggers Contest” which is a competition to find the largest trees in Michigan, with them having a ceremony that is being held in September for the winner.
The green thumb at ReLeaf Michigan have left a positive impact everywhere they go. Individuals, businesses, organizations, and local governments can find ways to connect with this mission at https://www.releafmichigan.org.