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Tree Corps Reaches New Milestone: Planting & Caring for More Trees Than Ever in Cleveland

January 4, 2023


Creating a greener city is much more than just planting trees! Speaking for the trees (as the Lorax does in Dr. Seuss’ nature loving classic, The Lorax) is important to us at Holden. To help people better speak for the trees, we created an arboriculture workforce development program that motivates participants to be champions for trees while helping the local economy. Tree Corps is designed to provide valuable training for entry-level tree care jobs for Cleveland residents. The program was initially funded by a Vibrant Green Communities grant from the Cleveland Foundation. While most people think planting trees is the key part of having a greener city, Tree Corps participants learned that really, the process of increasing tree canopy starts well before a shovel scrapes the ground and ends long after the blisters have faded from the hands grasping the shovel- and every step along the way is equally important. 

Despite increased action to plant and care for trees over the past five years, our tree cover in Northeast Ohio continues to decline. Due to a combination of factors including pests and diseases, climate change, and human activity, we are losing trees at an alarming rate—more than one percent of tree cover each year. Tree cover is the lowest in historically red-lined low-income neighborhoods with higher amounts of vulnerable people in need of environmental benefits provided by trees. The Cleveland Tree Coalition, a collaborative group of public, private, and community stake holders, including Holden Forest & Gardens, have partnered with the city of Cleveland to rebuild our urban forest, with a focus on increasing environmental equity. Together, we must plant, care for, and protect tens of thousands of trees to reverse the trends of tree loss in Northeast Ohio.  

To help increase regional tree canopy, Holden’s People for Trees movement has a goal to plant and care for 15,000 new trees in northeast Ohio by 2025. Tree Corps, launched in 2019, helps us achieve this goal as it expands our capacity to assist with tree care and planting events with community partners in Cleveland. At the same time, Tree Corps provides experience, exposure, and difference-making work for folks who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to engage in green careers. This year’s Tree Corp positively impacted over 800 trees and graduated four members in November.  

The members from the 2022 Tree Corps Program include Dennis Curtindale, Matt St. John, Marie Livingston, and Melissa Dougherty.  

In 2021-2022, Holden led or supported 24 tree planting events in Cuyahoga County working with 15 different partners including Burten Bell Carr CDC, Midtown CDC, and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. With these partnerships, we planted 545 trees- and will continue to care for many of these trees for at least 3 years after planting. These events were funded primarily though Healthy Urban Tree Canopy (HUTC) grants provided by Cuyahoga County. We also conduct outreach programs to teach tree planting and care and distribute trees for planting- in 2021 & 2022, we gave away 1069 trees at 13 different events. 

Here are some photos from the tree plantings this season:  

While members often enter the program thinking that planting trees is the most important part of increasing tree canopy, they soon learn that planting itself is only one step in a much larger process, and each step is equally valuable! 

Tree Corps member Matt St. John said, “As I arrived at the site where I planted my first few trees with Tree Corps, I also had in mind to remember exactly which ones I had stuck in the ground and where so that I could point out the young trees any time I was in the area and brag about giving a gift to future generations. … A few weeks into Tree Corps, however, nothing seems sillier. Since that first planting, I have realized the work that went into securing the funds needed for those trees to be planted, growing them in a nursery from seed, defending them from pathogens and harm in their young lives, selecting the best sites for them to grow healthy, and transporting them safely there. In future years, they will need to be pruned, and mulched, their staking will need to be adjusted, and any number of health issues may need to be sorted out. Planting them was one small link in a long chain.” 

To better understand all the links in the chain of tree care, the Tree Corps program connects with other organizations and departments within Holden to learn about topics including nursery management, soil health, forest management, herbicide application, chainsaw use, and tree climbing. One connection is Klyn Nurseries in Perry Ohio, which Tree Corps visited to learn about nursery management and selection process of a species from the wild to greenhouse.  To learn about soil, Tree Corps visited Rust Belt Riders, a business working across Northeast Ohio to divert food from landfills, instead of creating soil to support our local food system.  

Holden Forests & Gardens staff also provided hands-on experiences each week for Tree Corps, including forest management and herbicide application with Community Forestry and Conservation staff, a chainsaw safety day, and a climbing activity with Arborist Climber Jake Conrad.  

Here are some photos of Tree Corps members learning in the field:  

Visit to Klyn Nurseries
Rust Belt Riders Presentation

Urban Community Forester, Amanda Wood, lead the Tree Corps program this season. Her role is to coordinate the classroom and hands-on educational experiences for the members throughout their time with the program.  

Wood says: “For our Tree Corps members, this experience is a great way to ease into our tight environmental network through a trusted source while also getting a great educational experience. It is really rewarding to see the hard work you do and engage with people who are directly impacted by it…. Along with that, we provide a lot of support to make sure that our team is ready to flourish post-Tree Corps in the field.” 

Through all the experiences, Tree Corps members gleaned an understanding of the community network and decades long chain of processes required to increase tree canopy- starting well before a shovel scrapes the ground and ending long after blisters have faded from the hands grasping the shovel. If you want to also be a champion of trees but do not have time to invest in a 6-week Tree Corps program, consider taking one of Holden’s tree planting or care classes. Then you, too, can speak for the trees and join others in having a tangible impact on the health and well-being of people, trees, and ecosystems in Northeast Ohio.  

Rebecca Swab PhD, Director of Conservation & Community Forestry & Margaret Cook, Communications Specialist

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