‘ReTree the District’ phase four

Students, community members continue to plant trees in University Heights


Gary Kenney didn’t think twice about waking up early on a Saturday morning to plant trees.

Kenney, along with other students, professors and community members, joined the University Heights Collaborative and University District Common Council Saturday to “ReTree the District,” an initiative to plant 1,000 trees in the University Heights neighborhood off South Campus.

The initiative has been going on since 2014 and has separate phases, with this past Saturday being the fourth.

Kenney, a senior history and legal studies major, said before becoming a team leader, students must first receive training.

“We come out here a week early and we get training on how to use the tools so we have experience how to plant the tree properly,” Kenney said. “The city forester comes out and they help educate us so when we get the volunteers come who haven’t had this training we’re there as a positive influence who can help guide them through the process.”

Darren Cotton, director of community development and planning at the University District Community Development Association, said this time students planted different species of trees like oak trees and yellowwood trees, which he said are bigger and will take longer to mature.

“The shade trees like the oaks and the elms can take anywhere from 15 to 20 years to reach a mature size – ornamentals a little bit less,” Cotton said. “That’s one of the things we like to think about, 15 to 20 years from now students can drive down these streets and say, ‘Hey I planted that tree.’”

Cotton said the total cost of the trees was about $2,000 and each individual tree cost around $75 to $100.

Some students came out Saturday to volunteer, others were there as part of a class requirement.

Michael Chukwu, a junior health and human services major, said he was participating in the event as part of a requirement for his Social Sciences Interdisciplinary class. He said he would be there regardless of the requirement because it is “a good cause for the community.”

English professor Barbara Bono said these events are important because it helps South Campus while bringing the community closer together.

“You will see neighborhood residence out with the teams today. It’s a town grown effort to enhance the neighborhood to enhance relationship with the university community and people who have lived here long term,” Bono said.

Cotton said the initiative has a greater effect than just planting trees in the surrounding community and that many studies have been done to show how planting trees in an area benefits those who live there.

He said planting trees help raise property values, help with mental health and reduce the carbon footprint and rates of asthma in the area.

Cotton said sometimes, even with the benefits, some people will still ask the volunteers to stop planting trees in their yard.

“It’s real frustrating when someone digs three feet into the ground and is told to stop,” he said.

ReTree the District might still have additional phases. Cotton said the first two resulted in just less than 500 trees planted and they’re expecting the same number from phases three and four, which means they may have fallen just short of 1,000 trees. He said this would result in a fifth and sixth phase in order to reach the goal of 1,000 trees being planted in the area.

“One thousand trees can have a really huge impact on the neighborhood,” Cotton said.

James MacDavid is a news staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com.