Can planting one tree change the world?
One by one, a shallow hole was dug in the dark soil, after carefully measuring and marking out the space for the new seedling.
They may not be arborists or well-seasoned tree planters by trade but the group of students, chosen as community planters, used their will to create a better environment and determination to gently place the trees into their new homes in the fertile soil.
Close to 80 Grade 5 students from Ecole Lacombe Upper Elementary School (ELUES) descended on a field just a few minutes west of Lacombe to participate in Lacombe County’s Project Plant program on Monday afternoon.
After hearing a presentation at the school from the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance about how plants can assist bodies of water, as well as presentations from Waskasoo Park and the Battle River Watershed Alliance, the students loaded onto a bus and headed out to the Project Plant site.
They enjoyed a tasty barbecue lunch on the sunny day and then were given spades, measuring tapes, cans of spray paint and the opportunity to plant their own trees in the 15-acre field.
Project Plant is in its second year and on this day, the group planted around 550 prickly rose and spruce seedlings. The program was initiated in 2014 by Lacombe County with the simple intent of encouraging not only youth but also the community’s involvement in restoring a former gravel pit site back to its natural form.
D and M Concrete Products Ltd. has operated the site since 1990 and gifted the piece of land to the County in 2012. Since then, the two partners have been working together towards the final reclamation of the site.
“The premise is to create a tree nursery so that when the D and M Concrete gravel pit is depleted, which will be in about 10 years, we can reclaim it with upland and wetland vegetation,” said Lacombe County Environmental Coordinator Blayne West.
West said the County could have chosen to plant the trees on the site with their own manpower, but it would have been a missed opportunity to teach the students and community about bettering the environment.
“We wanted to engage school kids,” she said. “In the curriculum, they talk about wetlands in Grade 5 and so we thought, you know what, they should learn about trees and it’s an opportunity for the community to get involved in the project rather than just our staff. It’s a missed opportunity to not have them involved.”
West said even though Project Plant is only in its second year, it is a pilot project and a first of its kind in Lacombe County. The program will expand next year and West hopes to include more schools and community groups in the reclamation process of the land.
“We are open to any of the schools who want to do this next year or in another area,” she said. “If someone is really keen, or if they have a place and think they would like some trees planted, give us a call.”
As for the future of the site, both parties will continue the reclamation process with the help of the community.
“The future of the site is it will be reclaimed back to upland and wetland habitat,” said West. “It might become a park. It’s possible but we don’t know. It will be up to the next set of councillors and staff to decide.”
The County is hopeful residents will continue to assist in establishing the space as a green space for the use and enjoyment of the entire community once it is completely reclaimed.
In the first year of Project Plant in 2014, around 60 Grade 5 students from both Terrace Ridge School and ELUES attended the reclaimed section of land and planted a few rows of spruce trees. This year, the students planted the two varieties of trees in many rows, furthering the reclamation process.
D and M Concrete still oversees the site and regularly waters the newly planted trees and those from last year in order to advance the growth. The trees planted last year are still in their infancy stage, but they are slowly growing, a testament to what future generations will eventually see at the site.
The ELUES students left the field a few hours later, with some dirt on their shoes and some exposure to the sun, knowing that they did a good deed.
As the trees slowly mature into a forest and the children grow up, they should know that maybe that one tree they planted can change the world and can have a lasting impact in the environment.