You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about the dire state of our environment, especially related to climate change. It is hard to believe it is still a topic being debated when all the science points to the almost irretrievable world situation.
While there are lots of people who spend their time talking and lamenting, there are also those that dig in (pun intended) and do something about it. My latest feat allowed me to spend a morning with a group of local eco-heroes making their positive difference in the world: Greening Niagara (greeningniagara.ca).
Greening Niagara (GN) began in 2006 as Climate Action Niagara and currently provides eco-education in action to foster lifestyle changes that support heathier, resilient communities and reduced carbon footprints. As a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization, Greening Niagara collaborates with community stakeholders (municipalities, businesses, school boards, faith-based organizations, and other non-profits and charities) in community initiatives that positively impact our environment. These programs include community gardens, gardening and canning workshops, eco-speakers and film series, and an annual one day event called Eco-Fest Niagara.
I had the privilege of joining the GN volunteers for their autumn planning day. This was my first experience with tree planting other than for my own landscaping at home. I was aware that trees reduce our carbon footprint by absorbing carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, but I also learned that planting trees that are native to an area support and preserve the environment and its biodiversity.
Our planting area was along Merritt Trail in St. Catharines. Despite living in Niagara for almost 30 years, I wasn’t familiar with the pathway until now. The Welland Canal Society built the trail, which was completed in 1986. It begins in south St. Catharines at Bradley Street and stretches through to Martindale Road in the west. The trail is bicycle, dog-walking, and pedestrian-friendly, although, the 11 kilometres are not continuous so it is recommended that walkers download a map before starting out (http://www.stcatharines.ca/en/playin/MerrittTrail.asp).
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but it was a crisp, sunny day and I knew that, if nothing else, I would enjoy being outside on a beautiful Fall morning. I met the tireless Executive Director, Jane Hanlon, as she headed out to place signs directing the volunteers to the site. My first task was to watch for the trees that Land Care Niagara Stewardship Coordinator, Olivia, was delivering for planting.
I spent the next two hours along with about a dozen other volunteers getting the maple and tulip trees introduced to their new homes. I worked with Olivia untangling two beautiful, root-bound tulip trees from their plastic pots. During this time, I also watched and listened to the others as the worked. From one volunteer, I learned about the problems with the clay soil that we were planting in that necessitated an infusion of richer soil in order for the trees to prosper. Jane showed us how to make vertical cuts around the root mass in order to disrupt the roots that were spiraled and compacted by the pot before placing them in the freshly dug holes.
I learned that several of the volunteers were Brock University students who were in various programs – Recreation and Leisure Studies, Concurrent Education, Applied Disabilities Studies (accompanied by a young woman with whom she was working) and Public Health (completing an internship with GN). In addition, there were community members interested in giving back and improving their region- some were long-term volunteers with GN; others, like me, were brand new to the group. The energy from the group was contagious, with lots of laughing and talking amid the digging and planting.
All the trees were planted by noon and we returned io our homes and to our own various Saturday afternoon activities. I drove home with the smell of Fall in my hair and rich black soil under my nails. Another fantastic feat accomplished with multiple positive results: a couple of hours of sunshine, exercise, and good company; the opportunity to make my community a little more eco-friendly; and the discovery of a brand-new place to go with my buddies, Murphy (my Golden-Doodle), his friend Ted (my Shih-Tsu), and their frequent companion Keane (The Navigator’s Jack Russell Terrier mix) – winners all around!
Next up: Participating in a Drumming Circle with Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara Branch.