116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — One year after hurricane-force winds knocked down 70 percent of the tree canopy in Cedar Rapids, the city, residents and local groups have replanted thousands of trees — but the work of replenishing the urban forest has only just begun.
Crews removed about 4 million cubic yards of tree debris from the streets through June, clearing the way for reforesting Cedar Rapids through the city’s yearslong, multimillion-dollar initiative with Marion nonprofit Trees Forever.
“I am encouraged that people are stepping up to help in every way,” said Trees Forever founder Shannon Ramsay, the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids plan manager. “That includes funding. That includes volunteer time.”
Ramsay said last week that Linn County lost 1 million trees in the derecho, with 669,000 trees destroyed in Cedar Rapids. That astounding number came from a review of pre-derecho and post-derecho aerial maps by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.
From public comments received in the city’s Community Climate Action Plan as well as the ReLeaf plan, Ramsay said it is clear that people are dedicated to replanting trees.
“They want their trees back,” Ramsay said. “They want to help make it happen.”
Ramsay said a team drafting the ReLeaf plan expects it to be ready by mid-November. The city has a $500,000 agreement with Trees Forever through Dec. 31 to draft the plan, with the help of international city planning expert Jeff Speck and local landscape architecture firm Confluence.
Speck is scheduled to give a public presentation on the plan at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 in the Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.
But the ReLeaf planting isn’t waiting on the plan.
Since the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, Ramsay said Trees Forever has assisted with the adoption of 6,020 trees by homeowners, nonprofits and public entities — many of them mapped to allow the organization to continuously provide people with information about tree care.
Additionally, Trees Forever has helped replant 426 trees along city streets through its Growing Futures program and distributed 9,928 seedlings and saplings in the metro area.
City Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said the ReLeaf plan will include design plans for replanting in 38 city parks.
“Those are the 38 that were probably hit the hardest and large enough that it needs that good comprehensive plan at each one of those,” Hock said.
He said the city had not begun to clear city parks of tree debris until November as crews first focused on clearing streets. Crews have cleaned up the “improved” areas of city parks, but the city is working through how to clear what the Federal Emergency Management Agency calls “unimproved” or timber areas.
In the meantime, Hock said, volunteer groups have stepped forward to help raise funds to replant — one example being the Cleveland Area Neighborhood Association contributing to replant Cleveland Park. So far, 53 trees were planted there; 25 were planted in Redmond Park; and over 100 were planted in Noelridge Park, though Hock said that park in the northeast quadrant will need many more trees.
Rachael Murtaugh, the city’s new ReLeaf program manager, said the city has replanted more than 1,200 trees so far, and by the end of the year will have planted more than 1,700 trees.
Part of the ReLeaf plan will identify the diverse, native species best for the environment and good for the city’s growing conditions, Hock said.
“It’ll have to ramp up as we go,” Hock said of the number of trees planted each year. “We’ll continue to grow.”
With the need for reforestation in mind, the Cedar Rapids City Council has committed to spend $1 million a year for several years to plant trees and will provide funds in the fiscal 2022 budget for watering those newly planted trees.
“Hopefully that continues for many years because we’re going to need it, but even that’s not going to be enough,” Hock said. “We need assistance from private donors, from corporate donors — all those things have to be part of this in order to reestablish the urban forest.”
Hock encouraged continued contributions to Trees Forever, the city and the Cedar Rapids Parks Foundation to support replanting efforts.
In addition to fundraising to accomplish the massive replanting feat, Ramsay said volunteers are needed to help with planting, watering and mulching the newly planted trees, especially those in the first two years after being planted.
But bringing Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy back will mean extensive replanting on private land as well.
"The urban forest is not just rights of way and parks, but it’s people's backyards, their front yards, it’s their homes,” Murtaugh said. “People just planting in their own homes, planting native trees … all that’s going to help rebuild our forest.”
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