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Trees retake Mission Hill

It seems nothing gets Roger Belley more fired up than the prospect of kids and woods. That could explain why he was in full cheerleader mode during St. Albert's Arbor Day celebration this week.

It seems nothing gets Roger Belley more fired up than the prospect of kids and woods.

That could explain why he was in full cheerleader mode during St. Albert's Arbor Day celebration this week. "Hurry! Hurry!" he cries, as hundreds of students stream onto Mission Hill. "It's time for the big show!"

About 350 Grade 1 students rallied by the Little White School Monday to take part in a mass tree-planting. It was the first major Arbor Day celebration at the site since 2001.

Mayor Nolan Crouse kicks off the festivities by planting one large tree with the help of public works officials. "Are you ready to plant some trees?" he says to the crowd.

"YEAH!" say the kids.

Seeds of growth

According to Belley, the city's park's co-ordinator, J. Stirling Morton of Nebraska founded Arbor Day in 1872, as he was concerned about the lack of trees in his area. The event spread abroad and is now an international event to celebrate and plant trees. St. Albert's celebration was originally planned for May 20 but was delayed due to cold weather.

Students from Albert Lacombe, Father Jan, Mission, Marie Poburan, J.J. Nearing, Muriel Martin and Neil M. Ross elementary schools got to mulch, water and plant about 400 lodgepole pine and white spruce saplings Monday afternoon, as well as view samples of St. Albert's oldest known tree. The students also took home another 400 saplings to plant at home.

The tree planting is part of an ongoing effort to reforest Mission Hill, Belley says. "This valley was quite forested pre-settlement," he notes, with large stands of white spruce and tamarack, the latter of which is now a rare find.

A large group of students planted many trees on the hill in 2001, with the Junior Forest Rangers following suit a few years later. Fire and rabbits destroyed about 30 per cent of these trees, Belley says, but the rest survived, and some are now about six feet tall. "At some point, we'll have a lot of trees that tall," he says, pointing to some mature pines.

One of those trees might be the one planted by Dawson Chambers, a Grade 1 student at Muriel Martin. He was excited to be planting his first-ever tree, having had a taste of gardening with bedding plants. "They give us food and paper and house other animals," he says of trees. He predicts that his 15-centimetre-tall sapling would be a 20-metre giant by the time he graduates from high school.

Brenda Letendre says planting a tree with her granddaughter, Ellie Ruzwski, was the chance of a lifetime. "She's so interested in how things grow," she says. "It means something to the kids that you care to take the time to be with them."

Trees are one of the main reasons why people come to live in St. Albert, Crouse says, so it's important for us to plant and protect them. "It leaves a legacy of trees and a legacy of understanding."

Crouse also drew the crowd's attention to the presence of John Beedle, the retired city arborist who helped plant most of St. Albert's boulevard trees in the 1960s. Those efforts lead to the city's current inventory of some 38,000 public trees.

Beedle, who recalls planting some of the first of those trees in nearby Mission, said it was tremendous to see so many children here planting trees. "There's more children than there are trees to plant by the looks of it!" he says, laughing. Those trees would grow next to five northwest poplars planted in the 1930s for the creation of Founders' Walk, he notes.

The city plans to hold a similar mass planting next year, Belley says, possibly at Mission Hill. "There's nothing more beautiful than watching a child plant a tree."

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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