INTERVIEW WITH A SYCAMORE
My first interview at the Casey Trees tree planting on Saturday, May 2 didn’t go as well as I’d hoped:
“So, Mr. Tree, how does it feel to be the 20,000th tree planted by Casey Trees?”
He probably just needed more time to settle into its new home…
The rest of the Casey Trees staff and volunteers, however, were much more willing to talk. They were willing to do a lot more than talk, actually: the crowd of 100 volunteers gathered in Fort Dupont Park to plant 350 trees, one of which was the 20,000th tree Casey Trees has planted in its 13-year history.
Washington resident Betty Brown Casey established Casey Trees in 2002 in response to an article in the Washington Post documenting the loss of tree canopy in the city. In the 1950’s approximately 50 percent of DC was covered by tree canopy; by 1999 coverage had dropped dramatically, leaving a wide swath of less than 20 percent canopy in the core. Mrs. Casey founded Casey Trees “[t]o restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital.” The organization’s goal is to reach 40 percent coverage in 2035.
Casey Trees’ work is multi-faceted and year-round. Staff prepare months in advance for tree plantings: coordinating with the schools, parks, churches, homeowners, and community centers with which they partner; growing trees for transplant at their nursery; and preparing the grounds for planting. They provide everything down to the smallest detail for their volunteer planters: from equipment and safety training, insect repellent and poison ivy salve, coffee and doughnuts—even vegetarian and gluten-free pizza for lunch. And after the plantings, they ensure the trees get regular watering and site visits to check for weeds, invasive vines and other threats (read: hungry deer).
There are as many ways to get involved as there are roots in the ground. One volunteer I spoke with found out about Casey Trees through their tree rebate program, which offers homeowners up to $100 per tree they plant. Another volunteer I met is an active Tree Advocate, empowered by the training and opportunities Casey Trees provides (lobbying days, public meetings) to speak up for trees in her community.
Other opportunities include volunteering, watering trees, becoming a Citizen Scientist or Citizen Forester, or even gifting a tree to celebrate someone special. Casey Trees also offers free classes open to anyone in the public who wants to learn more about trees and the environmental factors that affect them. I’ve taken Trees 101 and Trees 201, as well as the Invasive Species training and Saturday morning invasive plant removal in Rock Creek Park. It was raining that day, but that didn’t slow us down one bit.
And this is perhaps the greatest strength of Casey Trees: the committed people it brings together. The atmosphere at events is upbeat and jovial. People of all ages are excited to work together, from students to retirees—even a 2-year-old tree planter whose vest hung off him like a superhero’s cape.
A former Casey Trees staff member came back to volunteer after only two weeks on her new job because she missed the other volunteers. According to Jim, a Team Leader, “Volunteering is an opportunity to feel good helping the environment and helping to beautify DC.”
Michael, a volunteer who spends his workdays in an office environment, enjoyed the opportunity to take a break from the concrete jungle and get his hands dirty for a good cause. “You can see the direct results of your work,” he said. “It gives you a feeling of satisfaction.”
Visit Casey Trees to find more ways of getting satisfaction out of giving.
Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. She’s currently writing a book about how trees will take over the world. Hint: get on their good side—now.