When ten volunteers showed up at 2 a.m. to plant trees in the dark in Lancaster County, PA, they were offered headlamps, coffee, and cans of Red Bull energy drinks in addition to the usual gloves.

For one, Genevieve Chiola, 24, of Lancaster, did not need any stimulants. “It’s wild being awake when I’m not usually awake. I’m energized,” said Ciola, who had never planted a tree before.

Volunteers in Lancaster County, PA, plant streamside trees during a 2–6 a.m. shift in the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s 24-hour tree relay or “Treelay” event on Oct. 28–29, 2022. Credit: Ad Crable

“I recently read many books about the power of trees and natural things,” she explained. “I want to be a little more connected to it. I like getting my hands dirty, metaphorically.”

The night owls were the second shift in the inaugural 24-Hour Volunteer Tree Planting Relay dreamed up by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to inspire more tree-planting events in the Chesapeake Bay watershed states, especially along vulnerable streams and in city landscapes.

From 6 p.m. on Friday, October 28, until 6 p.m. the next day, 178 volunteers answered the call, helping 3,500 native trees take root along streams, parks, and tucked-away green spots in rural and urban settings. Six plantings occurred in Lancaster, York, Adams, and Cumberland counties in Pennsylvania, and one in Carroll County, MD, and Washington, DC.

The Treelay, as it’s called, is believed to be the largest single-day volunteer tree-planting event in the Bay states.

“Our main goal for the Treelay was to galvanize communities around tree planting,” said Ryan Davis, the Alliance’s senior forests project manager. “Many people already like trees and the idea of planting them, but most people haven’t ever personally done so.

“By hosting a huge planting event with a fun twist to help make it stick out to the general public, we hoped that we would get new people out to join in, who will then hopefully stay engaged in conservation efforts into the future.”

Among the first tree-planting initiates for the event was Adam Copenhaver, 23, of Rothsville, PA, who read about the Treelay in his water analysis company’s newsletter. He decided to stay up “as a little bit of ‘why not?’ — and to say I’ve done it once in my life. There’s a lot of firsts here tonight.”

The first three, four-hour shifts in Lancaster County planted 190 trees and shrubs, including river birch, viburnum, sycamore, elderberry, willow, and other native species.

They did so under the glare of adjacent baseball field lights that were turned on to illuminate their work. Rebecca Lauver, the Alliance’s Pennsylvania forests projects coordinator, admitted to being disappointed that the switch to flip on the lights was small and noiseless, unlike the iconic lit-cornfield scene in the baseball movie Field of Dreams.

Using headlamps, volunteers plant trees along a stream in Lancaster County, PA, as part of the 24-hour tree-planting relay or “Treelay” event held in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, DC, on Oct. 28-29, 2022. Credit: Ad Crable

Like several other sites, the planting followed up previous restoration work. Here, at Salisbury Township Community Park, a summer stream restoration project had converted Plain Sect crop fields along an unnamed tributary to Pequea Creek into wetlands and native plantings for wildlife to prevent flooding.

That work involved removing sediment that had built up behind long-vanished mill dams and restoring the floodplain, a project that will help the township reduce its stormwater runoff.

During the Treelay, volunteers added a buffer along that stream and a feeder stream that was breathing steam into the chilly night air.

The trees will hold the streambanks in place, reduce erosion, provide shade, and cool the water aquatic organisms need, Lauver told the assembled volunteers before they got their hands dirty. Eventually, she added, leaves from the trees will provide leaf litter needed by macroinvertebrate insects in the waterway.

Other trees were planted in the park to improve its ecosystem, soften its open space, and as a means of lessening greenhouse gases, no matter how slight.

As a heavy frost started to tinge the leaves on the new trees and the thick grass blades, Katie Eckman, a 30-year-old nurse from Lancaster, dug a small hole and bent over to slide a tree ball into the ground.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find ways to give back or to contribute in a way that fights climate change or somehow gives back to environmental causes,” she said. “This is small, but it’s nice to feel like you’re doing something.”

As it got colder, sniffling could be heard as the group silently and efficiently went down the row of flags that marked planting locations and inserted trees, topping them with mulch.

Volunteers plant trees to reforest a golf course in Westminster, MD, as part of the 24-hour tree relay or “Treelay” event held in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, on Oct. 28-29, 2022. Credit: Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

No less earnest were the volunteers who worked at the five other Treelay sites in Pennsylvania. The Treelay’s finale involved adding more than 1,000 trees to a streamside buffer that is converting a former hayfield on a private farm located, symbolically enough, on Good Intent Road outside Gettysburg.

In Westminster, MD, volunteers helped the city revert a former private golf course to a forest.

And in Washington, DC, ten volunteers planted a single tree in a small green space in a housing complex.

Working with a trio of nonprofits that support the homeless, runaways, and LGBTQ community, the Alliance, has spent two years adding to the environmental worth of the small area, creating agriculture gardens, providing a spot for outdoor programs and safe green spaces, and now trees that will literally and figuratively provide fruit.

This article was originally published on BayJournal.com and is republished with permission.


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