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Home News Latest Volunteers plant thousands of new trees at Middletown Trailside Park

Volunteers plant thousands of new trees at Middletown Trailside Park

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Holly Stoufer and Andrew Liput, sophomores and members of the Interact Club at El Molino High School in Sonoma County, Calif., plant a ponderosa pine seedling at Middletown Trailside Park in Middletown, Calif., as part of the Middletown Tree Planting Project on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth Larson/Lake County News.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. – The south county’s recovery from the Valley fire took another significant step on Saturday when hundreds of people from Lake County and beyond got together to reclaim and rejuvenate a cherished piece of earth.

Under a bright, breezy blue sky, with clouds moving down off the mountains, an estimated 350 volunteers from around Northern California converged at the Middletown Trailside Park for the Middletown Tree Planting Project, organized by the Lake Area Rotary Club Fire Relief Fund.

Jennifer Strong of the Lake Area Rotary Club Association, or LARCA, has been heading up the replanting project in the 18 months since the fire.

She said volunteers came not just from Lake County but from as far north as the Oregon border, south to Marin County, and from the coast to the Sacramento Valley.

Those hundreds of volunteers, separated into six groups, heard brief presentations on how to plant the seedlings before fanning out, shovels in hand, to begin planting.

By noon, the tiny trees had all been planted amidst blooming wildflowers and sprouting madrones, and not far from the blackened stumps that were all that remained of the many trees that the fire had destroyed.

Strong said she believed it was the first hands-on community recovery project since the fire.

During the 2015 Valley fire, which burned more than 76,000 acres, one of the losses that weighed the most heavily on the community as a whole was the trees – those that died in the fire and had to be cut down or which later died and were removed by one of many local and state agencies.

Greg Giusti, the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Lake-Mendocino County director and advisor for forests and wildland ecology, said that he’s talked to hundreds of people impacted by the Valley fire.

While a lot of people lost their houses, “It was the trees that made it their home. People wanted to live in the forest. They wanted to live among the trees. So this is a way to rebuild their home, to get back what was lost,” he said.

In response to that desire, Strong said one of LARCA’s first initiatives was for tree planting.

LARCA’s Fire Fund and Lake County Rising allocated nearly $60,000 for 100,000 tree seedlings for the Valley fire area, the groups reported.

Those funds were allocated to the East Lake Resource Conservation District, which in turn collaborated with the El Dorado/Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation District for the greenhouse planting in Placerville of 100,000 native conifers – mostly ponderosa pine but also including some Douglas fir and sugar pine – that they began to distribute in Lake County last year, as Lake County News has reported.

Trees are being distributed to community members for planting but the trees for Saturday’s planting had been set aside specifically for the park, Giusti said.

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An estimated 350 people took part in the Middletown Tree Planting Project in Middletown, Calif., on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Here, they get instructions before moving out to begin planting seedlings. Photo courtesy of Dennis Darling/Lakeport Rotary.


Strong said Lars Ewing, the county’s Public Services Department director, who oversees the county’s parks, helped identify Middletown Trailside Park as a planting location.

Strong said 4,000 trees had been brought to plant on a 12-acre portion of the 107-acre park and nature preserve. The area set apart for planting, she explained, was one the county had been able to get cleaned up and ready.

Trailside Park was a particularly poignant area for the project. At one point about two-thirds of it was covered with trees. However, all but a small number of the park’s trees died in the Valley fire.

Since then, the park’s dead trees have been clearcut, leaving it bare and seemingly barren, and looking nothing like it once had.

Parts of the park on Saturday remained cordoned off with yellow caution tape, with large stacks of logs and some pieces of equipment dotting the property.

Strong said the ponderosa pines were chosen for replanting because they have failed to come back on their own, while other trees, such as oaks, have fared better on regeneration.

Ponderosas are a hardy tree, which grow between 1 and 2 feet annually, and at maturity will be between 60 and 100 feet tall, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The ponderosa’s seeds provide food for birds and small animals, and its leaves, twigs and bark are eaten by elk, mule deer and porcupines, the foundation said.

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District 1 Supervisor Moke Simon, wife Nancy and granddaughter Taylor plant a ponderosa pine seedling during the Middletown Tree Planting Project in Middletown, Calif., on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth Larson/Lake County News.

Getting to work

On Saturday at the park, people who has experienced the fire shared stories and memories of it. For others from neighboring counties, they expressed their desire to assist their neighbors in rebuilding. Still others who had journeyed to Lake County for the first time thanks to their Rotary connections found themselves drawn to its beauty and part of its story moving forward.

One of those taking up a shovel and planting trees with his family was District 1 Supervisor Moke Simon.

Simon, who also is tribal chair of the Middletown Rancheria, did the shoveling while his wife Nancy and their little granddaughter Taylor put a seedling in the ground. Little grandson Bentley, who just started walking last week, was trying his legs nearby while holding his mom’s hand.

Even before taking his seat on the Board of Supervisors in January, Simon has been a key figure in the south county’s response to the fire, thanks to the tribe making available its facilities for an evacuation shelter and hosting fundraisers for the rebuilding, as it did on Friday.

Leaning on his shovel on Saturday morning, Simon said the park has been an integral part of the community, a place to exercise or for equestrians to ride their horses. He welcomed the opportunity to be a part of bringing the park back to life.

Other participants on Saturday included students from around the region, many of them from Interact Clubs, which are sponsored by Rotary.

Jack Strange of the Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary Club is the faculty advisor for the Interact Club at St. Isabella School in Terra Linda.

Fifty three of St. Isabella’s students and about six faculty members rode a bus to Lake County on Saturday morning to plant the trees, he said.

Strange said the cost to rent the bus for the day trip was $1,200. “The kids actually raised the money themselves to pay for that bus,” he said, with their main fundraiser being a Christmas dance.

He said they had heard about the tree planting project and knew they could offer volunteers and hands. The school’s Interact Club started its own project to plant 1,000 of the trees at the park and, in so doing, create a legacy for students.

“These kids can not only do something that’s of importance today but 20 years from now they can come back and look at this beautifully forested park and say, ‘You know what, I did that,’ and that’s something that everyone really wanted to be a part of, and from there it just absolutely took off,” Strange said.

Strong was visibly amazed and emotional about the event, which she was was nothing like she had ever seen in her life.

“What’s happening right now is not about planting trees,” Strong said in a soft voice as she paused to look around at hundreds of people digging or kneeling in the soil to plant the seedlings.

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More than 50 students from St. Isabella School in Terra Linda, Calif., along with several faculty members and Interact Club Advisor Jack Strange, at left, took part in the Middletown Tree Planting Project in Middletown, Calif., on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth Larson/Lake County News.

There were people who came who lost everything but wanted to take part in helping bring back the trees, she said, adding that “serious healing” was taking place.

She recalled meeting a man earlier that morning who was speaking to the trees as he planted them. Strong said she stopped and asked him what he was telling the trees. The man, a veteran, said he was praying for them to make it. He also was naming them; he named one for his sister.

In another area of the park, El Molino High School sophomores and Interact Club members Holly Stoufer and Andrew Liput worked together to plant their seedlings.

Although spring’s touch of green was all around, the marks of the fire are still very obvious in the landscape, a fact Stoufer observed. “No matter which direction you look, you just see carnage,” she said.

She suggested it would take take a long time to replace all of those trees that were lost, but added it was good to get a start.

Giusti agreed that bringing back the south county’s trees won’t be a quick process. “It’ll take decades. It will take a very, very long time to restore the trees that were lost,” he said.

However, for some, knowing they may not sit in the shade of the trees they plant is OK.

“I’m just glad that we’re going to have forests against,” said Lakeport resident Zachery Kimbell-Auth, planting trees alongside his mother, Pastor Shannon Kimbell-Auth.

He said he doesn’t expect to see the forest come back in his lifetime. But he’s happy at the thought of his future children and grandchildren someday being able to enjoy the forest he’s helped to plant.

Email Elizabeth Larson at elarson@lakeconews.com . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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Shovels at rest: With the work over, shovels were set aside and volunteers stopped to have lunch during the Middletown Tree Planting Project in Middletown, Calif., on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth Larson/Lake County News.

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