TREE TIME: Annual sapling giveaway returns Saturday

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GREENFIELD — It’s time to put down some roots.

Regreening Greenfield’s annual tree giveaway begins 9 a.m. Saturday at the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza.

The nonprofit will be giving away seedlings of Red Pine, Redbud, Elderberry, Sycamore, Red Oak, Shagbark Hickory and Blackgum trees while supplies last.

Regreening Greenfield hosts the giveaway each year in conjunction with Arbor Day, which falls on April 26 this year.

The nonprofit’s roots date back to 1988 when Weston Elementary School students on the school’s Community Problem Solving Team were challenged to pinpoint a local problem and find a way to fix it.

What the students came up with was raising an awareness about a lack of trees in Greenfield and hosting a free tree sapling giveaway to boost the number of trees in the city.

One of those students — Kathy Lee, who is now a teacher at Weston Elementary School — has picked up saplings from the tree giveaway each year since she built her house in 2010, planting them around her home and watching them grow along with her kids.

Lee fondly remembers the year she and her fellow team members — led by teacher Marciann McClarnon Miller — came up with the tree giveaway that would grow into Regreening Greenfield.

“One of my classmates made a comment that our town is called Greenfield but it didn’t seem like there were a lot of green spaces with lots of trees, so we all voted and decided that would be a project we could try to tackle,” she recalled.

 Marciann McClarnon Miller presented a $500 check from Regreening Greenfield to Weston Elementary teachers Jaime Wolski, Annie Wing and Krista Bridenthal earlier this week. The teachers will use the funds to teach second graders a STEM lesson on the importance of trees. McClarnon Miller was a teacher at Weston in 1988 when she lead a group of fifth graders who came up with the idea for an annual tree sapling giveaway, which eventually evolved into the local nonprofit Regreening Greenfield.

With McClarnon Miller’s help, the students organized the city’s first tree giveaway and even helped plant several of the trees around town.

“We had a big drive where people would call and request trees, and we had a voicemail system set up where they could say we need a certain number of trees. On Saturday we got together and had teams that went out with parents and dug the holes to plant the trees on people’s property,” said Lee.

“One of our parents made little sticks painted yellow and we stuck those in the ground to protect the trees. Everyone had a job,” she recalled.

The students sold doughnuts before school to raise money for the saplings, and even had tree recipients sign a contract vowing to take good care of the trees.

“It was so cute,” said McClarnon Miller, a member of the Regreening Greenfield board.

Lee said she’ll never forget the lessons she learned through the school project, including lessons on the importance of taking care of the environment.

“I think it made a big impression on me or I wouldn’t be going back to get trees every year,” Lee said with a laugh.

The Greenfield woman has carried those same lessons over to her own classroom, where she teaches students about the importance of planting trees and recycling and other ways to take care of the planet.

“We spent time talking about the importance of Earth Day and taking care of the earth is so important,” she said.

As an adult, she appreciates how trees enhance the landscape and positively impact the environment.

“There was a big wind storm that uprooted several of the trees in my parents’ yard about 20 years ago, and it was heartbreaking to see those huge hundred-year-old trees topple over,” she said.

“It was very eye-opening to see how easy trees can disappear, and how important it is for people to plant new ones. If we don’t, it wouldn’t take much for the green space to disappear and the concrete pads to take over,” said Lee.

McClarnon Miller still has the scrapbook she made the year her students launched the tree drive that would evolve into Regreening Greenfield, when a mayoral task force took on the project the kids started. The pictures show bright-eyed fifth graders grinning as they dig holes and place the saplings in the ground throughout town.

Earlier this week, the former teacher returned to Weston Elementary to present second grade teachers with a check for $500 from Regreening Greenfield to be used for a STEM project focused on the benefits of planting trees.

Tere Payne, a longtime Regreening Greenfield board member, said it’s great to see children learning about the importance of trees and how they positively impact the environment.

Earlier this year, she filed the annual request to have Greenfield designated a Tree City USA for the 24th year in a row.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, which grants the designations, “residents of your community should be proud to live in a place that makes the planting and care of trees a priority.”

For more information on Regreening Greenfield, and to see a detailed description of the saplings to be given away at the fairgrounds this weekend, visit Facebook.com/RegreeningGfield.

To learn more about the benefits of planting trees, visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s website at ArborDay.org.

This year’s tree giveaway starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza, behind the county courthouse in downtown Greenfield.