116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Jeff Speck had seen only photos of the devastation left behind after last year’s derecho knocked down most of the city’s tree canopy.
But the internationally recognized city planner, who is helping with the city’s long-term ReLeaf replanting initiative, for the first time this week saw the destruction firsthand. He toured the city to take in the damage — seeing streets once completely shaded by trees now filled with limbs and stumps.
“Just to see the devastation that I know from the images was what the whole city was like immediately after the storm, and just to imagine the emotional beating that you all took when you experienced that — I only got in touch with it today but it makes me even more committed to this effort,” Speck said.
The ReLeaf team — including Speck, local landscape architect firm Confluence, nonprofit Trees Forever and city staff — shared renderings of phased replantings in Bever, Cherry Hill, Daniels, Jones and Greene Square parks during a presentation Wednesday evening at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Patrick Alvord, principal of Confluence, said these renderings show what the parks could look like if every lost tree is replanted; and more trees could be planted over the life of the ReLeaf plan’s execution.
Animations of these replantings, as well as further public engagement opportunities, will be on the ReLeaf engagement website at confluence.mysocialpinpoint.com/releaf-cedar-rapids for several more weeks before being taken down for data collection.
The final plan is slated to be shared in mid-November, with detailed designs for 38 parks the city identified as most in need of a landscape architect; recommendations of native and diverse species landowners should plant; and more to guide the multiyear efforts to replant trees in Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids will distribute the plan this fall in a magazine to residents.
“It is fully our goal, I'd say, our intention but also our expectation, because we've dug so deep into best practices, that this plan that we're creating will become a model for the country,” Speck said.
Survey efforts have asked residents which principles they prioritize. The top ranked principles that emerged were:
- Resilience: Ensuring the trees replanted will stand stronger against another derecho-like storm, blight or other disturbances.
- Native landscape: Planting species native to Iowa and primed to grow.
- Climate action: While the city works on its Community Climate Action Plan, where trees were identified as a tool to help cool the planet, citizens also want climate to be a consideration in the ReLeaf plan
- Equity: Trees improve the quality of air and reduce urban heat islands, and trees can help balance equity across the city’s neighborhoods.
- Species diversity: Having a variety of species helps make a tree canopy more resilient.
A key element of the plan’s implementation will be inspiring homeowners and landowners to make the right choices about which trees they plant. About 85 percent of trees lost were on private rather than public land, Speck said.
He said part of the planning will involve identifying as many large landowners in Cedar Rapids as possible and reaching out to them to get a commitment.
While one challenge will be maintaining momentum to replant over the next decade or so, Speck said sourcing the trees will be the biggest hurdle.
“There's a lot of people who want a lot of trees in this region and we're not the only ones who lost our trees. But to plant, to replace the 669,000 trees in 10 years, that's a supply-chain problem,” Speck said.
Rachael Murtaugh, the city’s ReLeaf program manager, said Cedar Rapids has not waited for the plan’s completion to get started — 290 trees were planted in parks this spring, and over 360 more will be planted this fall.
Before 2020, Murtaugh said the city averaged five applications a year to plant trees in rights of way. The City Council waived the fee to plant there after the derecho, and the city has approved over 220 applications for rights of way.
“Citizens are partnering with the city and partnering with Trees Forever to help us plant our street trees back,” Murtaugh said.
Additionally, Murtaugh said drought conditions have stressed young, newly planted trees, so citizens should give an extra 5 gallons of water weekly to help new trees planted in rights of way survive.
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said Cedar Rapids remains committed to helping citizens rebuild after widespread damage to their homes. The city also is committed to replenishing the tree canopy, which will take years, so it was important to start immediately to make a difference for the future.
“As a community, we could have said, 'We can't afford it,' or 'We don't have the resources,' or 'We have many, many other priorities and therefore, this isn't something we can deal with right now.' We didn't do that,” Pomeranz said. “We said that today, and our future generations, ourselves and our kids and our grandkids need to have a tree canopy in our beautiful community in addition to all the other things that we're working on and continue to work.”
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