When the Mormon pioneers first glimpsed the Salt Lake valley, it’s said that in addition to the huge, salty lake, there was a single tree in the entire valley. In response, the pioneers got busy planting acres of trees of all kinds. These newly planted trees provided not only fruit, but oxygen, shade and of course, beauty.
Trees are, in fact, our partners on the planet. Through photosynthesis, they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. A single tree can absorb up to 330 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, while providing enough oxygen for a whole family.
As an integral thread in the web of life, trees keep our entire planet healthy. Trees reduce the need for heating and cooling, their root systems filter rainwater, reduce erosion and provide habitat for urban wildlife.
The life-giving properties of trees are what prompted former Salt Lake resident Pepper Provenzano to found TreeUtah in 1988. TreeUtah’s mission is to improve Utah’s quality of life by enhancing the environment through tree planting, stewardship and education.
Putting Down Roots
In 2016, TreeUtah planted more than 10,000 trees. So far, in its first 25 years, the organization has planted more than 360,000 trees around the state. Most planting takes place on public lands, from city parks to national forests. The organization coordinates with public entities and municipalities to beautify parks and other public areas. TreeUtah’s long-term goal is to plant a million trees.
The organization currently operates with a full-time staff of three dedicated individuals: executive director, planting coordinator and bookkeeper. They are looking for a fourth, an inspired individual to coordinate their education programs. In addition to their full-time staff, last year 3,000 volunteers stepped up to help plant trees around the valley.
Some volunteers come to plantings individually; others come in groups. TreeUtah partners with dozens of companies whose employees get together to plant trees. People bring their families and enjoy each others’ company outside the workplace.
TreeUtah follows up on the trees they and their volunteers plant. They make sure the trees they and their volunteers plant are properly watered and cared for to improve their survival rates.
Before she became executive director of TreeUtah, Amy May volunteered for the organization for more than 15 years. “I loved volunteering, when the opportunity came up, it seemed like a great fit,” she says. “I love gardening and planting trees, and love to be involved in an organization that engages people in nature.”
TreeUtah Teaches About Trees
TreeUtah’s educational programs are a centerpiece of their mission. A gregarious tree named Carrie Cottonwood visits 60-some elementary schools around the state to teach kids about trees—how to plant them and why to plant them. The program, titled “Discovering Trees with Carrie Cottonwood,” is presented free of charge to 2nd grade classrooms in Salt Lake County. The program is presented in participation with Salt Lake County Million Trees.
As part of the program, teachers can apply for a grant to purchase trees. TreeUtah teaches teachers which trees will do best at their locations and why. Sometimes students’ families participate in school plantings. TreeUtah provides volunteers to teach proper planting and care.
The organization also provides adult educational opportunities. Adults can learn about planting, pruning and tree identification. Tree identification classes take place in the winter, before trees have leafed out, to show students that leaves are not the only way to identify trees.
As a veteran tree planter and educator, Amy is inspired by TreeUtah’s work in the community. “I love the way that it gets people of all ages engaged in the nature in their own back yards,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to volunteer with an organization where you can bring your kids, your grandparents—everyone is welcome, all abilities and age levels. It’s a fun way to make a positive impact in your community. Everyone is always learning. The whole point is to teach people how to plant trees and why. So many people say they don’t have a green thumb. We open up a new world to people that they might not normally get to experience. Hopefully, they go home and plant more trees in their yards.”
How Can You Help?
If you’re interested in volunteering, either as an individual or with a group, you can register at the volunteer link on TreeUtah’s website. You can register as a community volunteer, to become a volunteer team leader, or even to be Carrie Cottonwood.
By registering to volunteer, you don’t need to make a long-term commitment. You can attend open tree plantings whenever you choose. TreeUtah posts open plantings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Through the end of June, a portion of your purchases will go to TreeUtah to support their work in the community. Hugger Mugger is proud to partner with this great organization.