Saturday, Nov. 15 was a big day, not only for the Aransas County property owners who each received two new trees through RETREET, but also for the more than 150 local and visiting volunteers who helped plant the trees.
RETREET Executive Director Grady McGahan said crews from Aransas County, City of Rockport, Town of Fulton and All Hands and Hearts delivered the trees to the selected properties the day before.
“There were more than 270 requests (and we couldn’t fill them all in one weekend),” said McGahan. “So, we will be back doing this again in March.”
He noted the volunteer effort required to successfully pull off such an event as Saturday’s planting of up to 170 native 1.5” caliper trees, free of charge, at the homes of families in Aransas County affected by Hurricane Harvey, created a real sense of community.
“We have a list from all over the county,” said McGahan. “The energy of civic cooperation is great,” noting, among other organizations, the involvement of Keep Aransas County Beautiful (KACB).
KACB President D’Ann Williams recalled the large-scale destruction of trees after Hurricane Harvey.
“Seeing the landscape after the storm made many people grieve,” said Williams. “We saw homes we didn’t know existed (after they were exposed when the trees surrounding them were destroyed).
“I can’t wait to see how these trees bend with our oaks.”
Williams announced Keep America Beautiful (KAB) gave KACB a $10,000 Lowe’s Community grant this month to help support RETREET’s work in Aransas County.
The U.S. Department of Labor provided funds for KACB to hire an executive director more than a year ago. Rosemary Pizio-White, who filled that role until her death Oct. 23, never waivered while fighting cancer, said Williams.
“She would just say, ‘I want to do this’,” said Williams. “RETREET was her last official work she did before she left us and today we honor her memory with this large scale planting.”
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills recalled his feelings after the storm as he witnessed the destruction of thousands upon thousands of trees on the three peninsulas (Live Oak, Lamar, and Blackjack) that make up Aransas County.
Singling out just one of the areas that lost so many trees, Mills said, “The Rockport Country Club (RCC) lost 1,200 live oak trees on its golf course. One of our commissioners (who lives in RCC) had 78 trees in his yard, but now he has 30.
“I’m sixth generation (living in Aransas County). Never have I seen the destruction of trees like we had after Harvey.”
He recalled how his wife, Penny, was only concerned about the two huge oak trees in their yard after the storm.
“I asked her, ‘Aren’t you worried about the house?’ and she said, ‘No, it’s insured’,” said Mills.
The judge said live oak trees are the signature of Aransas County, adding he hopes it is always known as the live oak peninsula, and never palm tree peninsula.
Texas A&M Forest Service Regional Urban Forester Bill Green and his team then demonstrated for the volunteers, who would be planting trees all afternoon, the proper way to plant the trees, including live oak, wax myrtle, and cedar elm.
Green and his crew showed volunteers how to properly cut tangled roots after pulling a tree from its container to ensure the tree’s roots would grow outward after planting; how deep to plant a tree; and how to properly place mulch around each tree (mulch should never touch the tree, and should be patted in place by hand in a circle not outside the tree’s drip line).
Once volunteers were divided into teams, they scattered throughout the county to plant trees in the yards of residents selected for this round of planting.
Later that evening, RETREET hosted “A Celebration of Community” at the La Palma Event Center. The event featured dinner, drinks, and live music, all free of charge for volunteers and the families for whom they planted earlier in the day.
The Home Depot Foundation, Lush Cosmetics, Keep America Beautiful, and Lowe’s Home Improvement provided major funding for Rockport RETREET.