116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Nearly four months after the adoption of the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids plan to reforest the city after the 2020 derecho, work is underway on the 10-year plan to replant thousands of trees all over town.
Kent VonBehren started in February with Marion-based nonprofit Trees Forever as the ReLeaf project manager, managing the massive undertaking for the nonprofit and working with the city of Cedar Rapids on the $37 million public-private partnership.
VonBehren said he got more familiar with the organization last summer after his daughter, who loves trees and plants, got involved with Trees Forever.
Conversations with staff about his background and about the ReLeaf plan, which the Cedar Rapids City Council adopted in February, led to his new full-time position. He works closely with the Cedar Rapids ReLeaf coordinator and other partners on the plan, which calls for planting over 42,000 trees on public land in the next decade.
The ReLeaf partners will have to work to maintain the community’s momentum for planting and caring for new trees for 10 years. But VonBehren said when volunteers get together, people can’t help but feel good about planting trees.
“You know that you’re leaving a legacy,” VonBehren said. “You may not be able to sit under that tree in the future, but some kids and grandkids will.”
VonBehren spoke with The Gazette recently about the long-term replanting effort and how the community can stay involved.
Q: How has Trees Forever started implementing the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids plan in the few months since the City Council adopted it?
A: There’s really a spring planting season and a fall planting season, and then you spend the summer months watering and preparing for the next seasons …
There’s the public side and the private side (of the plan). The city is mostly responsible for the public side of the plan, which is, in short, making sure that trees are replanted to rebuild on the city right of way as well as in the parks. The initial effort has been and will continue to ramp up so that we continue to procure more of those native trees that are specified in the plan.
On the other side of the plan is on the private side, and that's where Trees Forever comes into play probably the most. I like to think of it as dealing with big yards and little yards. There's little private yards, which are all those yards that are owned by citizens throughout the city, and the big yards or institutional yards - your corporate campuses, and that could include golf courses, cemeteries, private schools. … We are trying to engage with TreeKeepers, expand on that program, and I'm working on some other program ideas to help us expand that capacity.
Q: To execute this plan over the next 10 years, one of the biggest challenges the plan identified was supply chain — securing enough trees, particularly the native species that the plan recommends. How is Trees Forever working with nurseries and other tree growers to alert them to this increased need for specific tree species over the next decade?
A: We have a pretty wide network of connections, including those with growers, and that seems to be both locally and in other parts of the country. With the ReLeaf project in mind, we'll be working to expand that network so that we can source the tree stock that's needed, especially the natives, of course, that are called for in the ReLeaf tree list.
But our staff, the folks that we have at Trees Forever, as well as the folks in the forestry department at the city, are so connected and have been able to reach out. So far, we’ve been able to keep up, but I do think we’re going to have to expand that and continue to work on it ...
The plan … has built into it the first two years are a ramp-up period. Just the street trees alone, there are about 1,700 trees that are planned for planting the first year and then a similar number the second year. Then it jumps up to about 3,800, almost 4,000 per year. And that's how we cruise on through to hit the numbers we need to through year 10.
… I'll be bringing on board here in the next few weeks a volunteer coordinator - someone who is dedicated to helping with the effort of engaging and managing relationships with volunteers, both individuals we have (such as TreeKeepers), but also individuals who have reached out and said, “What can I do to help?” And then institutions that are so generous, not only with helping to fund the activities and the procurement of trees, but also offering employees that want to get involved and help out.
Q: For residents looking to get involved, what are some ways you recommend they help support tree replanting efforts?
A: Check out ReLeaf Cedar Rapids, and it's a fantastic plan and read through … so you can inform yourself and also educate others. Let people know that the plan exists. You can always reach out to the city and reach out to Trees Forever so that you can volunteer, you can always donate, you can talk to your organization about donating and getting involved. You can step it up and become a TreeKeeper, which is our program where you can learn more about trees, tree identification, proper care of trees.
Find a dashboard showing where trees have been and will be planted, a list of ReLeaf-recommended native species, information on replanting on private land and tips for getting involved at CityofCR.com/ReLeaf.
We're working on opportunities in the fall and next spring for people to ... tap into neighborhood leaders that will help us to identify where the need is and put trees in the ground.
… If everybody works together and hangs in there, we’ll get the job done. It's not going to happen in a day, or even a year or a couple of years. This is a long-term extended effort.
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