Operation Earth Day: Charlotters reforest elm trees at Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge

Rio Centeno , 8, and Aviana Centeno , 6, at Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge on Earth Day, April 22. Photo by Lynn Monty.

Gray skies persisted but rain held off long enough on Earth Day to allow for a major effort in giving back to Mother Nature. Charlotters, tall and small, joined forces to repopulate the Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge with elm trees.

“With all of this heavy mud, this is really a task,” Vince Crockenberg said while wielding his shovel. Incidentally, Crockenberg is the president of the board here at The News, but he wasn’t there serving in that capacity. He was present in honor of Larry Hamilton, Charlotte’s long-time tree warden who recently passed away. “This is my ongoing homage to my dear friend,” he said.

Mud-covered children squealed with glee during the entire hours-long process. Their hands-on educational experience was led by Jessie Bradley, who serves on the park’s oversight committee. She was there guiding Melanie and Rodney Centeno of Charlotte and their children, Aviana, 6, and Rio, 8, who were, at times, busy “saving” earthworms from the steel rim of the shovel. Be sure to check out the video on The Charlotte News Facebook page to see what took place.

Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck assembled four work groups that day. He distributed maps of the park along with shovels, mallets and the like. Areas were pre-staked where the elms would find new life.

Originally, elm trees grew all over the park until Dutch elm disease took hold. Now there are none. In a valiant effort, Dillenbeck and his crew of more than a dozen volunteers planted 25 disease-resistant elm trees in the park April 22.

Jessie Bradley volunteers due to an affinity for wildlife, particularly birds, she said. “I have been a part of the park since Rockefeller donated it,” she said. “It’s a great place and an amazing resource in town. We could use more volunteers though.”

Volunteering to work on projects like this in town binds a community and keeps taxes down, Bradley said. Not to mention it keeps invasives at bay and protects precious resources.

Volunteer Alexa Lewis said she was there to give the elms a good start. “We need to make sure the earth renews itself and keeps the soil strong and the water intact,” she said.

Dillenbeck said Horsford Gardens & Nursery generously cared for the trees for three weeks leading up to the Earth Day planting. They supplied them at cost, and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program grant allowed this attempt at reforestation of elms in the park to happen. Next the team will make sure the elms are watered until they are well established.

The Nature Conservancy is donating an additional 15 trees of three varieties to be planted at the park and elsewhere in town.