Out of the Woods 9

What’s green, brown and an integral piece of Charlotte’s future?

Trees.

These gentle giants may seem like an easy piece of the Queen City’s elaborate puzzle—after all, they line our curving streets and fill our parks with dappled shade in summer and colorful, crinkling piles of leaves in fall—but the role of trees is actually a complex one that requires nimble hands and knowledgeable nurturing.

Enter TreesCharlotte.

The nonprofit’s roots (no pun intended) reach back to 2010, when a cadre of experienced philanthropists and existing organizations like Foundation For The Carolinas and The Knight Foundation formed a committee with the intention of raising the profile of our local urban forest and engaging and educating the community on caring for and planting trees. By 2012, the committee had matured into TreesCharlotte. Today, the nonprofit has planted some 25,000 trees and held more than 100 community events.

Since the organization’s beginnings, their intentions have remained the same, though their implementations have changed. “Initial efforts were heavily focused on planting at the expense of not stewarding or caring for trees. We soon realized the planting is the beginning, not the end of the process of expanding and diversifying the urban forest,” explains Dave Cable, Founding Executive Director of TreesCharlotte, bringing to mind the old “teach a man to fish” maxim. Add to that more effective education programs and an increased awareness of the importance of community engagement, and the organization is booming (or should we say “blooming?”).

The tenets and programs of TreesCharlotte are four-fold, though each arm of the organization fosters both education and social equity. “TreeDays are events at CMS schools where we plant trees using community, corporate and student volunteers. School plantings make up 39% of TreesCharlotte’s annual plantings,” says Executive Director Chuck Cole. Using teacher “TreeChampions,” the program continues to educate a new generation of tree-huggers long after they’re planted. A spectrum of volunteers fosters community connection across traditional barriers.

“NeighborWoods are tree stores held in neighborhoods,” he continues. “They’re intended to both grow the canopy and to build neighborly love.” Focusing on underserved neighborhoods, TreesCharlotte uses neighborhood leaders to enlist their neighbors to register for trees to plant on their property. “Each neighbor who takes trees will be taught by an official TreesCharlotte TreeMaster how to plant and properly care for their new trees to ensure they live and thrive.”

As Cable mentioned before, the organization realized early on that simply planting the trees and walking away was an unstable model. That’s why stewardship remains an important tenet of the organization. Regular events round up volunteers to care for the trees and build community, too.

But perhaps most important of the organization’s creeds? Education. “Charlotte has a large younger generation that will soon be the keepers of Charlotte’s canopy,” Cole notes. “Teaching them to properly care for trees and to appreciate the benefits of trees keeps future generations engaged.”

Charlotte’s trees help keep our air clean, our soil stable, and our temperatures regulated, but they won’t be able to do any of those things without the help of the Queen City community. “Growing and preserving our canopy is everyone’s problem!” Cole proclaims. “We must come together to help keep our canopy healthy and in turn, keep us healthy.”