Memorial Day tornadoes: Tree campaign to make ‘decimated landscapes feel like home again’

Wooded area between the Foxton Apartments on Shoop Mill Road and the Stillwater River was flattened by the tornado on Memorial Day.  TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
Wooded area between the Foxton Apartments on Shoop Mill Road and the Stillwater River was flattened by the tornado on Memorial Day. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

A new program announced this Arbor Day will help replace as many as 1,000 trees lost to 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes and fill a lasting void for Dayton-area tornado survivors recovering from the storm.

“You can rebuild houses, but with trees that are 50 years old, you can’t rebuild that right away,” said Rap Hankins, a Trotwood tornado survivor. “It takes a lifetime to plan and see the tree canopy that was destroyed replaced.”

ExploreWalking the Path of the Storm

The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) and RETREET, a Texas-based nonprofit, launch the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign today. The, multi-year effort aims to reestablish the trees that once provided shade, energy savings, and other benefits to residents and wildlife across a large swath of the region impacted by the storm.

“The next step in the recovery process is restoring the tree canopy in our disaster impacted neighborhoods,” said Brian O. Martin, executive director of MVRPC, which leads the Long-Term Community Disaster Recovery Network made up of impacted counties, cities, townships and villages.

Replacing trees downed in storms is often an overlooked part of the recovery process, said Grady McGahan, director of RETREET.

“Trees are destroyed alongside infrastructure and housing in every natural disaster,” McGahan said. “Planting new trees brings life back to an area and produces an immense psychological impact by making unfamiliar, decimated landscapes feel like home again.”

ExploreMemorial Day tornadoes: Harrison Twp. from above then and now

Owners of residential properties in the Miami Valley that were impacted by the tornadoes now can visit to complete an online form to request that free, native trees be planted for them.

RETREET representatives and partners will work with residents to determine the best planting locations at each home site. Beginning in late September or early October, volunteers will begin planting trees, likely following the path of the tornadoes moving west to east, with the early events in Trotwood, Brookville, Perry Twp. and Vandalia, according to MVRPC.

All owners of tornado-impacted properties, regardless of where they live along the path of the storm, can request trees. Representatives from RETREET will contact property owners as the planting events near for each community.

Hankins, a former Trotwood council member, was one of the thousands of Miami Valley residents who looked outside after the storm and was crestfallen. Just one of more than a dozen trees on his Filbrun Lane property survived.

“I used to joke that when it started to rain it took 15 minutes before I got wet,” said Hankins, also a member of the region’s Long-Term Disaster Recovery Advisory Board.

ExploreCommunities, nonprofit plan to replace tornado-downed trees

TREEcovery Campaign will replace fallen trees with15-gallon, 1 ½-inch caliper native species from a list approved by agencies such as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources or city arborists. The new trees will range from seven to 10 feet tall depending on the species and be purchased at local nurseries, according to McGahan.

Although much of the work will be done by volunteers, the effort is expected to cost at least $300,000. The campaign was kickstarted with a $50,000 leadership gift by the Dayton Foundation, which also established the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign Fund to accept contributions from the community.

Organizers say that community support will be crucial to reach the goal of planting 1,000 trees.

“Most people struggling through the disaster recovery process do not have time, energy or funds required to replace their lost trees,” McGahan said.

“These plantings will be a tribute to the resiliency of our community,” said Michael M. Parks, president of The Dayton Foundation.

AES Ohio has pledged a matching grant for all contributions of $500 or more to the campaign fund up to $50,000.

“Despite the devastation caused by the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes, this community has shown its resilience, and community partnerships like this one are helping to accelerate efforts to rebuild,” said AES Ohio president and CEO Kristina Lund.

Hankins said replacing barren areas will help tornado survivors escape memories of that night.

“Until you replace those trees, you’re reminded of what happened to you and what could happen to you again,” he said. “What we’re doing with RETREET is not only important as it relates to the environment, but it’s also important to the recovery of everyone who went through the tornadoes.”

How to request a tree

Owners of residential properties impacted by the tornadoes now can complete the online form at

How to contribute

To make a contribution online, visit the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign Fund page. Contributions by check should be made payable to The Dayton Foundation, 1401 S. Main Street, Suite 100, Dayton, Ohio 45409. Please indicate “8647 Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign Fund” on the check.

Inquiries about the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign can be submitted through the RETREET website at

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