You don't have to leave town to explore nature: That's one lesson from upcoming Trees Forever symposium

Event in Cedar Rapids Dec. 12

Program manager Aaron Brewer works a tree into a hole dug by employees Alexis Henley, 16, of Hiawatha and Keonte McCune,
Program manager Aaron Brewer works a tree into a hole dug by employees Alexis Henley, 16, of Hiawatha and Keonte McCune, 14, of Cedar Rapids along 42nd Street NE in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 26. Trees Forever’s Growing Future’s program employs Cedar Rapids area teens often coming from disadvantaged populations to help plant and care for trees in the area. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

You shouldn’t have to get out of town to get into nature and conservation.

That’s the message George Hess will bring to Cedar Rapids on Dec. 12 for local nonprofit Trees Forever’s annual Our Woodland Legacy Symposium.

The event will bring policymakers and members of the public together to learn and talk about how trees and green spaces can help the quality of life in urban areas, and how towns can make them a planning priority.

“I do conservation work, and a lot of times when people do conservation work, you think about national parks and big preserves far away from cities,” said Hess, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. “But as people have moved more and more into cities, if the people in the cities aren’t able to experience nature nearby and don’t care about it, there’s going to be less and less support for conservation and natural areas in more remote areas.”

Shifting the conversation happens when advocates demonstrate the ways natural spaces in urban areas can benefit the residents of cities and towns, Hess said. Those benefits include things like increased physical and mental health, cleaner water and air, access to fresh food and even economic benefits through things like tourism and attracting and retaining workers.

“I’m going to talk about one of our local land conservation organizations and have how they changed through time from being focused very strongly on natural areas and conservation because they’re cool and you should love them to talking about the benefits in ways a broader audience will understand them,” he said.

Such conversations are the entire point of the symposium, said Trees Forever communications and marketing manager Jackie Wedeking.

“It’s a day we can bring in ideas and conversations and show research on why nature is important to cities,” she said. “There’s a lot of information for the lay person new to the conversation and a lot of information for people who have been part of the conversation for a long time.”


In addition to the keynote address by Hess, there will be morning and afternoon sessions, with discussion topics including bringing nature into schools, challenges and benefits of including nature in planning development, bringing nature home and moving property owners to action. A wide range of speakers will participate, from city officials to nonprofit representatives to representatives of local businesses.

“It’s just great conversations, just a wonderful way for people to connect the dots on how nature actually impacts their lives,” Wedeking said. “The theme is giving voice and value to our natural assets. It’s recognizing that having a tree outside your window has value, and there’s research that shows that. It’s more than just an intrinsic feeling, there’s research and data to show that. There’s a lot of research that we really need nature in our neighborhoods.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339;

If you go

What: Our Woodland Legacy Symposium

When: Cedar Rapids Country Club, 550 27th St. Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

Where: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12

Cost: $75 public, $50 Trees Forever members, $25 students/AmeriCorps members

Details and registration:

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.