After derecho, Cedar Rapids parks face winter of cleanup

City eager for massive replanting effort

Crews gather and remove tree limbs and other debris Tuesday from areas of the Ellis Park Golf Course in northwest Cedar
Crews gather and remove tree limbs and other debris Tuesday from areas of the Ellis Park Golf Course in northwest Cedar Rapids. Crews likely will work for months to clean up the last of tree debris in city parks that were badly damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Shannon Ramsay recalls Daniels Park in the northeast quadrant as a majestic green space with “magnificent” oak trees.

Then hurricane-force winds pummeled the city in the Aug. 10 derecho. The neighborhood park on Oakland Road NE lost more than 250 trees.

It is “a park that was really appreciated and loved, and it’s one of the city’s signature parks,” said Ramsay, founding president of local nonprofit Trees Forever. “It received a lot of care and maintenance, and I think the neighborhood really appreciated it.”

City Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said it’s “painful” to see that amount of trees come down — and it’s hardly the only park in the city with a diminished tree canopy.

Along its destructive path, the derecho devastated Cedar Rapids parks, leaving behind massive amounts of tree debris that crews continue to clean up. But the loss also presents opportunities for the city to plant a more diverse, equitable and sustainable urban forest in it parks in the coming years.

“We’re partnering with Trees Forever, of course, to try and put a good plan together for replanting both parks and right of way trees to again bring back the urban forest even stronger,” Hock said, referring to the city’s multimillion-dollar ReLeaf partnership with the organization.

As of Wednesday, the city had removed 5,584 vegetative loads and 238,563 cubic yards of tree debris. The city did not have an estimate on the total quantity left in the city park system, but debris is being documented for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement.


The colder temperatures and frozen ground help minimize the damage done by the heavy equipment needed for the cleanup, Hock said.

Staff likely will work well into the spring to clean smaller debris, he said. The focus is on cleaning up the parks to make them safe to open to the public again.

Volunteer efforts are disrupted by the winter weather, but Hock said groups interested in helping with park cleanup may contact the Parks and Recreation Office. People also may donate to the Cedar Rapids Parks Foundation or to Trees Forever to help with the replanting.

“The more help, the better on this one because every single one of the parks had damage,” Hock said.

City Parks Superintendent Brent Neighbor said the parks lost an estimated 65 to 75 percent of their tree canopy.

“That’s hard to see, and that’s pretty devastating to our park systems, especially with as old as some of these parks are,” Neighbor said. “A lot of the trees in some of these parks were original to the park.”

While there still are months of cleanup ahead for crews, Neighbor said they’re looking forward to the replanting effort.

Ramsay said equity will be a key guiding principle in forming the ReLeaf plan. The group forming the plan will use mapping to look at the tree inventory before and after the derecho to see which neighborhoods need trees the most.


Public engagement and education on caring for trees and the health benefits of trees also will be key to this effort, Ramsay said.

She noted the organization is hoping to recruit and train treekeepers in each neighborhood to care for the newly planted trees.

The city is taking cues on replanting from cities such as Calgary in Alberta, Canada, where massive snowfall in 2014 killed trees that had yet to drop their leaves. Julie Guimond, head of Calgary Parks Urban Forestry, said the trees there looked like “peeled bananas” when they were weighed down by snow.

Recovery and restoration were stages of the replanting process, but she said the “golden ticket” of strengthening the city’s urban forest was also placing a priority on resiliency. That meant being mindful of species that could grow well in Calgary’s climate in a prairie region and striving for biodiversity, which the city has accomplished by setting a target of planting no more than 13 percent of any given species.

To educate the public, Guimond said the city has worked extensively with the nursery industry, horticultural society and the community to promote the value of trees and provide steps individuals could take to improve the health of the urban forest.

Calgary saw results from those education efforts, she said. About 10,000 residents have participated annually in events, education workshops and volunteer planting activities. There were also thousands of calls for service requests to the city regarding trees, indicating the public’s care for a vibrant urban forest.

“We can really leverage and build on the strengths in our partners to bring that public education and that engagement with the general community,” Guimond said.

A long-term commitment to tree replanting, shown in Calgary and other cities that have come back from natural disasters, will “benefit the health of Cedar Rapids in every way — economic development, people will want to come here, live in Cedar Rapids and bring business in, it’ll be healthier,” Ramsay said.

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