116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I grew up in Cedar Rapids, and have fond memories of large arching trees lining the avenues and neighborhoods graced with maples, oaks and elms towering above the houses. We spent endless hours playing under and in our trees, raking piles of leaves to dive in and exploring the outdoors. We gathered in local parks for picnics and concerts with friends and family.
On Aug. 10, 2020, the derecho tore a hole in my heart. I grieved for the loss of my own trees, the loss in every neighborhood and for the loss of the trees that went down all over the Cedar Rapids area and across Iowa. As everyone knows who lived through it, we could see the destruction along every street and around every corner. Homes and buildings were damaged. People were without power and roofs. Many of us still shed tears as we drive down a familiar street without trees or with trees that suffered severe damage. A mere 60 minutes was all it took to wipe out some 650,000 trees in Cedar Rapids and almost 1 million in Linn County.
Shortly after the power was restored, I called Shannon Ramsay with Trees Forever. I’ve known Shannon for many years and had served on the Trees Forever board at one time. I explained how devastated I was over the loss of our trees, and asked what we could do to start replanting. That is how I ended up as a co-chair of the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids Campaign along with John and Dyan Smith, joined by a group of dedicated volunteers. Together we could begin the process to heal and replant.
Our city leadership had the vision to create a marvelous and detailed ten-year plan, which can be found online. They have encouraged other cities and towns to use the species list and extensive guidance provided in the plan. I love some of the ReLeaf Rules: “Citywide Diversity & Local Character,” “Big Not Small,” “Right Tree, Right Place, Right Reason” and “Let Trees Mingle.”
The plan also lays out a set of guiding principles, which include Equity, Native Habitat, Volunteer Participation, Beauty and Character and Resilience — to mention a few. These were chosen based upon surveys and focus groups. The nine principles can be summarized in one sentence, which is the Mission Statement: ReLeaf Cedar Rapids is committed to rebuilding a resilient canopy of mostly native trees, one that preserves citywide plant diversity and distinct neighborhood character, while striving to limit climate change.
It is one thing to have good intentions and motivation, but when you couple that with a plan of this quality with the help of hardworking Iowans, I truly believe we can get this done. As laid out in the plan, “It is going to take an army of volunteers,” and all of us working together to raise millions in private dollars to leverage the city’s commitment.
Thanks to so many individuals that have given to support our replanting efforts and to our lead corporate sponsors. Your words of encouragement have kept us going; each and every dollar adds up to more trees planted and watered. While we still have a long way to go to reach our fundraising goals, with your help we can get there!
For those who love this city like I do — we have a responsibility and a passion to restore our tree canopy so that for years to come, children and families have parks and streets of beautiful trees. Together we’ll benefit from shade and all the amazing benefits trees provide while building memories and restoring our souls.
Mary Quass is president and CEO of NRG Media LLC in Cedar Rapids and co-chair of the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids Campaign.