GROUNDS MAINTENANCE/Environmental education program takes root
Like many urban areas, Detroit has experienced tree loss as new development and construction have pushed aside green spaces for concrete ones. Between 1950 and 1980, more than 500,000 trees in Detroit were lost to urban expansion, attrition and Dutch elm disease. In addition, economic problems in the 1980s severely cut the city’s landscape budget and its ability to plant and maintain trees.
To promote environmental stewardship, the city is looking to its residents to take care of green spaces throughout urban areas. The Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit organization formed in 1989 to reforest the city, has partnered with more than 120 community groups and businesses to revitalize more than 700 areas of Detroit, including parks and city blocks. The group also works with the National Tree Trust, Washington, D.C., on environmental education.
Since 1995, the group has held annual TreeKeeper workshops to teach proper tree maintenance methods and encourage people to become stewards to their environment. Last year, the workshops expanded to include the city’s children when The Greening of Detroit partnered with 18 public schools to teach the TreeKeepers Kids program — a yearlong series of workshops — as part of the school curriculum. Educators typically make their presentations as part of science classes, according to Susan Erhardt, educational coordinator for The Greening of Detroit.
“The future is led by children,” Erhardt says. “They need to learn how to take care of their city.”
Students in grades K–12 learn about soil and wildlife habitats and how to identify plants and trees. Eventually, they build their own wildlife habitats somewhere on the school campus. The habitat becomes an “outdoor classroom” for future classes to use, Erhardt says.
Students design their habitats with the help of local landscapers, who donate their time to the program. Existing habitats range in size from 10 feet by 20 feet to almost half an acre. Students continue to add plants and trees to the habitats for three years after their initial construction, and they learn how to maintain them. Plants, trees and equipment are funded entirely through donations and grants.
More than 1,700 children have participated in TreeKeepers Kids, which has contributed significantly to the 25,000 trees planted by The Greening of Detroit. Erhardt says the organization hopes to expand the program to include all 269 public schools in the Detroit area.