Five Rivers MetroParks is launching a reforestation to help replace thousands of trees ripped from their roots by Memorial Day tornadoes and heal the community.
Damage to trees was immense and remains an inescapable loss, but replacing them will help heal the community, said Becky Benná, Five Rivers MetroParks’ executive director.
“An untold number of trees, shrubs and other plants critical to our region’s wildlife and natural heritage were lost during the storms,” she said. “It’s important we replant in the areas where so many were lost to tornado damage.”
The project, called Healing Nature, will provide communities and individuals with trees native to Ohio. A limited number of free seedlings will become available to the public in April.
MetroParks’ staff and volunteers have grown about 52,000 trees from seed over the past decade at Cox Arboretum MetroPark to reforest other parks, but shifted gears this year to provide the seedlings to the public, said Meredith Cobb, a conservation supervisor.
More than 4,000 seedlings are ready for planting this year. Each began as a seed collected by volunteers in August 2018, underwent tests and spent a simulated winter in a freezer before germinating in spring of 2019. Since then, the seedlings have been under mulch, Cobb said.
About 20 different native species are represented, including burr oak red oak, shag bark hickory, pawpaw, redbud and sycamore. The free trees would sell for up to $30 at a commercial greenhouse, she said.
It will take many years if not decades for the trees rival the stature of those lost in the tornadoes. A fast-growing sycamore may take as few as five years and an oak as many as 15 years to grow taller than an average adult, Cobb said.
But thousands of trees lost were dozens of feet tall and had grown for hundreds of years.
“Some of the trees we grow could live 400 years,” Cobb said. “You have to think in tree time. It’s a little different than human time.”
Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark took the brunt of the park district’s storm damage and was closed for a couple of weeks. There, as elsewhere, it’s difficult to arrive on a number of downed trees, Cobb said.
“Nobody really knows,” she said. “There’s no way of counting it that I know.”
Wegerzyn’s woods were not the only ones flattened that night.
Harrison Twp. officials said it will take centuries for Sinclair Park to resemble how it looked before May 27.
The hardwood trees — primarily red and white oaks — were the park’s main asset, said Merle Cypher, the township’s services director.
Many of Sinclair Park’s documented 415 trees were more than 200 years old, Cypher said, They included beech, hickory, ash and other native species. The tornado brought down 340 trees immediately. Another 40 are too damaged to survive and will be cut down, he said. Most of those remaining will have to be trimmed.
The park remains closed as the township continues to remove trees and set a construction schedule to replace destroyed buildings, including the lodge, said Kris McClintick, Harrison Twp. administrator.
Five Rivers MetroParks Foundation is seeking donations to support the Healing Nature program. Funds will be used to purchase or grow native trees and shrubs that will be planted in tornado-damaged areas. Donations can be made online at www.metroparks.org/healing-nature-donations/, or by contacting Beth Redden at 937-275-7275 or email@example.com.
As the seedlings mature, they will provide more than habitat for wildlife and respite for humans, Benná said.
“Trees improve air quality, mitigate stormwater, provide shade and enhance aesthetic beauty, and increase property values,” she said. “It’s important we heal the nature that heals our community.”
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