It’s been a hard year: tornado, derecho, pandemic, and then the recent bombing. Yet in the midst of the many and varied losses, trees became a symbol of hope more than ever — a sign of brighter days to come.
Business as Usual
Planting season runs from October through March, so in the beginning of 2020, the Root Nashville campaign was out in the community leading events as usual. Early this year (which feels like an eternity ago), we partnered with Vanderbilt University for a flood buyout planting in Madison, and we expanded on a previous planting with Urban Housing Solutions. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we planted 60 trees at Bordeaux Assisted Living and worked with Metro Public Health to plant trees in North Nashville with Be A Helping Hand and Hull Jackson Montessori.
Then on February 29, 2020 (an extra day in this extra long year), the Cumberland River Compact joined forces with Nashville SC and MLS Works to “plant the road to soccer” with the planting of over 90 trees along a section of Davidson Street that borders the Cumberland River.
“We had no idea what was around the corner, but this event brought out hundreds of fun-loving volunteers and soccer fans, representation from our Mayor’s Office, Nashville SC, MLS Works, and even the rival team for that night’s kickoff game, Atlanta United FC. It was energizing to see so many supporters come together around this event. Not to mention having an awesome DJ, giveaways — and of course, the work of getting an iconic row of street trees planted along a popular bikeway corridor connecting downtown and Shelby Park,” said Cumberland River Compact Executive Director Mekayle Houghton. “It was an amazing way to conclude our tree-planting season, before all the change to come.”
March 3 Tornado
Two days later, everything changed. A devastating tornado tore through Middle Tennessee, including North Nashville, Germantown, Donelson, and East Nashville — just shy of the newly-planted Davidson Street trees. Miraculously, these trees were spared. But so many huge, established trees were lost — many in neighborhood affected by the 1998 tornado, and also in historically underserved areas already identified as high-need for more trees. Creating an equitable canopy distribution was now even more imperative.
In the weeks that followed, the Root Nashville team and all of the Cumberland River Compact staff used our volunteer management experience to assist Hands On Nashville with site leadership as thousands of volunteers poured out to help with debris removal, supply donations, and damage assessment. As disaster response efforts were underway, we worked to prepare for the long road of recovery. With the devastation to not only people and property, but also to our tree canopy, we knew we had to mobilize our efforts in a new way.
With so many residents spending more time at home than usual, we noticed a huge increase in the number of people interested in tree plantings and other ways to help their neighbors. Volunteer spirit has remained high, even if the volunteering looked a little different.
One amazing outcome of this crisis was the development of our Neighborhood Planting Captain program. We knew we needed to get trees planted in these priority neighborhoods… but how to coordinate so many households, individual questions, and specific species orders? The rise of the planting captain program reminded us of the true power of grassroots organizing! Captains now work to reach out to neighbors about trees, and coordinate with Root Nashville to organize the planting and logistics.
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, and many Nashvillians still in the rebuilding phase after the tornado, I got to know so many of my neighbors in a new way by spreading the word about free trees for their yards,” said Neighborhood Planting Captain Will Marth, one of the grassroots organizers in East Nashville.
Ecological Recovery During COVID-19
An incredibly generous donation of trees from McMinnville nursery Hale & Hines in June 2020 jumpstarted planting recovery efforts. This family-owned nursery donated 500 large 1.5″-caliper container trees to the Root Nashville campaign to be planted in tornado-impacted neighborhoods. While June is not typically tree-planting season, these were container trees and recipients committed to regular watering over the summer. With the help of planting captains, these trees were delivered and planted at no charge to homeowners.
Throughout the summer, Neighborhood Planting Captains all over the city continued to recruit their neighbors for free trees. By the planting season kick-off in mid-October, homes for over 1,800 new trees had been found. We began planting events in Donelson, then moving to East Nashville, and wrapping up the calendar year in North Nashville.
“The March 3rd tornado blew over a tree in my backyard,” said North Nashville resident Judy Thompson. “That tree took out my car, my daughter’s car, and hit the rear of my home. I wanted a new tree because I loved sitting on my deck watching the birds and squirrels playing in it. I was so happy to get a new tree!”
Over 1,000 large 1″-caliper trees were delivered and planted, at no cost to residents, in just two short months — from mid-October through mid-December — by the Root Nashville team at the Cumberland River Compact.
In a year full of tragedy and change, our connection to the earth and to each other has provided hope, and trees continue to teach us how to grow into the future.
Adding Another Ring
We have learned so much about the strength of our neighborhoods, and feel inspired when we see supporters coming together to help shape their future — a future where a healthy tree canopy is a part of every neighborhood. So the planting will continue! After all, through our campaign’s efforts alongside Metro Nashville, in addition to all our tree-planting partners and friends across the city, we’re committed to helping plant 500,000 trees by 2050.
The current tree-planting season continues into early 2021, with plantings taking place from January through the end of March. Volunteer events will pick back up in mid-February, so stay tuned for upcoming opportunities.