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Tree planting event helps restore community roots (8 photos)

In this Rooted feature we join a group of families and other members of the community replacing trees destroyed by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle

When 11-year-old Ryna Furmah became concerned about the condition of the forest near her home in the south end she did what any engaged citizen would do. She wrote a letter to her city councillor.

“One day my dad and I went biking and we found that a lot of trees were missing because they had a disease,” said Furmah. “I wanted to make a change and plant some more trees because a lot of animals’ habitat got wrecked from the disease.”

She wrote a letter to her neighbour who just happened to be Ward 6 city councillor Dominique O’Rourke.

“The city is fighting the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that is infesting thousands of trees across the city,” said O’Rourke. “That means they had to cut down a ton of trees.”

The city’s EAB plan includes treatment, removal and replacement of ash trees on City-owned properties and is expected cost between $15 and $16 million over the next decade. Treatment to prevent the infestation is preferable but the plan posted on the City’s website states.

“City-owned ash trees showing signs and symptoms of EAB infestation will ultimately be removed and replacement trees will be planted.”

Over the past winter, a large number of infested trees were removed from the wooded areas along the trail across from Jenson Boulevard Park.

“Residents were really surprised when they walked through the trails in the spring and they saw how many trees had been cut,” said O’Rourke. “It really changed the landscape of this beautiful path and people, in particular my neighbour Ryna, asked if they could do something to restore those trees.”

O’Rourke took their request to the folks at the city in charge of the EAB plan.

“The city said yes, absolutely, let’s pick a tree-planting date,” said O’Rourke. “The city’s tree management people are just incredible, knowing the type of soil and the types trees that will flourish here.”

They set the date and spread the word through social media and the City of Guelph website. People were asked to register and show up Saturday morning at the entrance to the trail across from Jenson Boulevard Park.

“The city supplies the trees, the shovels, the wheelbarrows and all those types of things,” said O’Rourke. “We are putting in a variety of trees so that next time if there is a disease for one type of tree, we don’t have such a concentration of the same type.”

People from the neighbourhood and across the city showed up to do their part.

“I’ve never even been to this trail before,” said Kurt Almquist, as he plunged his spade into the rocky soil. “It is really nice here.”

His wife and daughter were also there to help.

“I am doing it because I love nature,” said nine-year-old Kinsey.

Richi Furmah was there as well to help his daughter with the planting and to encourage her environmental activism.

“Yes, this is a good initiative that she is helping with the environment,” he said. “We support her all the way. She is writing her next letter to Justin Trudeau so we will see what happens with that.”

O’Rourke said that Ryna is a good example of the many young people in the community who are concerned about the environment and the issue of climate change. She recently worked with a group of Grade 5 girls from Ecole Arbour Vista Public School who are committed to reducing their carbon footprint.

“I worked with them on an energy pledge encouraging people to reduce their energy consumption,” said O’Rourke. “So, kids are hearing the message about climate.”

They are becoming politically engaged citizens.

“They want their government to lead but they want to be able to take part in hands-on activities and feel like they are contributing,” said O’Rourke. “I think we are seeing a lot of kids who want to contribute and lots of kids with ideas about what they believe is important for our city.”

The Community Tree Planting event is a good example of the kinds of hands-on activities people of all ages can do together and it is also an excuse for families and neighbours to share some quality time together in the natural world.

“People that haven’t been here before I would welcome them to come and check out our trails,” said O’Rourke. “We have deer and you can hear the frogs in the summertime. It is absolutely beautiful. It’s a beautiful day. We’ve got a wonderful turnout and we are all here to restore the city’s tree canopy.”