116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last year was already well on its way to being a complete bust due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then on Aug. 10 2020, the derecho hit.
The derecho changed the appearance of much of Linn County, bringing widespread damage and destruction to our homes and businesses, not to mention the emotional anguish and anxiety that continue to linger for many in our community. Before last August, I doubt 1 percent of people had even heard of a derecho. Now, we won’t be able to forget the term “derecho” any time soon.
Local county and city parks, street trees and private yards all experienced widespread devastation. A 300-acre woodland in Linn County Conservation’s Wanatee Park, for example, had countless 1000-year-old and older oak, walnut and hickory trees that were completely or mostly destroyed. We anticipate these old, badly damaged trees to experience a slow decline with many more dying over the next few years from either broken limbs, insects or disease. Portions of this park as well as Morgan Creek Park and the Wickiup Hill Learning Center may never look the same in our lifetimes.
Conservation staff, working with the local Iowa Department of Natural Resources forester, developed a Derecho Response and Forest Restoration Plan for Linn County Conservation areas. Through several steps and phases, the goal is to restore these woodlands that the public has enjoyed for years. An extensive debris removal effort has taken months. Another step resuming this winter is pulling out logs large enough to salvage for lumber. Funds received from this harvest will be used for subsequent restoration efforts, including a multi-year task of planting new trees.
Our obligation is to do the best we can on this path to recovery, so future generations will be able to appreciate the resource as we did. In spite of the destruction, these natural areas continue to be important places for people to enjoy and recharge their spirits.
As we continue to collaborate with many organizations for the daunting task of replanting, we feel arborists have been pretty good at teaching the “how” when it comes to proper tree planting and principles of forest restoration. It is the “why” that has changed over the last decade or so and often gets left out of the conversation.
Research is now demonstrating a startling connection between time spent in a forest and human health. Did you know a simple walk in the forest is shown to reduced stress-related physical and mental conditions?
The benefits are nearly endless when it comes to exposure and access to trees and greenspace, such as reducing recovery time and amount of medication needed after surgery. Research also shows a reduction in hospital stay time for children recovering from a medical procedure when they are exposed to hospital gardens. Other studies show a reduction in factors contributing to lung disease, cancer, heart disease and impacts of mental illness, as well as increased cognitive and learning function, etc. The bottom line is that people need nature and trees are a big part of this!
It will take the entire community working together to restore what has been lost so that the next generation can access these essential benefits. We all can help by planting native Iowa trees, shrubs and landscape plants, or by supporting excellent local organizations who are working hard to educate and plant the next generation of trees.
Dennis Goemaat is Linn County Conservation executive director.