(Not so) Happy Little Trees
We’re sure you’ll agree – we love trees! Exploring trails among them, watching their beautiful cycle from bud to leaf to showy fall foliage, and enjoying a shaded campsite beneath them.
Sadly, sometimes we love them to death – it’s tough to be a tree in a campground! Think about it … an RV reversing into a campsite can bump them. Some people put nails in them to hang towels or hammocks (which is totally not allowed, by the way). Some even peel off branches to have the perfect marshmallow roasting stick (also not allowed – why do people think that’s a good idea?!). It’s easy to think, “it’s just one branch” or “it’s just one nail,” but the average campsite can be rented 120 times in a season, meaning just one marshmallow stick could easily become 120 lost branches for a tree. No marshmallow could taste good when you think of it that way.
Most recently, invasive bugs and disease have also been hitching a ride on the firewood that campers bring from other places. Pests and diseases can hide inside the wood and under bark and can be very difficult, if not impossible, for a camper to detect. (BTW, the same is true for firewood you use around your home, too). Whenever you transport firewood, you run the risk of providing a free ride for a not-so-nice hitchhiker like emerald ash borer or oak wilt. A quick and easy way to help prevent the spread of these and other tree tagalongs is to buy firewood within only a few miles of where you are burning it or use kiln-dried wood.
For nearly a decade, the DNR has partnered with the Department of Corrections to grow our Happy Little Trees. The program began as a response to losses of ash from emerald ash borer and to fill the growing (pun intended) need for replacement trees suitable for parks, but has grown (in case you missed the first pun) into valuable career training opportunities.
How does the Happy Little Trees program work? The process is pretty amazing.
Teams of volunteers (that could be you!) collect seeds from healthy trees at risk in state parks. These are then shared with inmates at prisons around Michigan. These inmates become “trustees” of the seeds. Because the seed source is from within the ecoregion of where they will finally be planted, the trees retain the unique genetics of the area. This helps the trees survive each ecoregion’s unique conditions. For example, the genetics of a tree growing in Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan likely are vastly different from trees growing near Fayette in the U.P. Even though you may find red oaks growing in both locations, the local genetics are better adapted to the local conditions and will increase the likelihood of survival.
The trustees grow the trees from seeds to saplings, and then into “treenagers,” which is the perfect size to plant them somewhere else (#parentingtruth). The trustees gain skills in the nursery and horticultural industries. They work hands-on with educators in the facility to germinate, grow and care for the trees, becoming adept with the “tools of the trade.” They also learn about Michigan’s native tree species and techniques for growing containerized tree stock.
Volunteers will be needed at all planting locations (though space is limited, so spots are not guaranteed), and all volunteers will receive a Happy Little Trees T-shirt. People interested in volunteering are encouraged to sign up by registering on the “volunteer” link on this page.
Chateau Grand Traverse was the first partner in the These Goods are Good for Michigan
program, generating $20,000 to support the Happy Little Trees program, already planting more than 1,000 trees in nearly 20 different state parks through their generosity. We hope you’ll do the same, by donating your time or financial support to this great program.