Trees for Tomorrow

Twins Hills volunteers and their families

Like most of us, Charlee Song, Valleyview Road, is worried about climate change. After reading about trees’ effectiveness in absorbing carbon dioxide emissions, she saw a relatively easy way to contribute to the solution. 

“Planting trees is something each of us can do, in whatever small way, to make our children and grandchildren’s future a little less awful than some predictions.”

Earlier this year, Song and some friends founded Trees for a Future, and set about looking for ways to get more trees in the ground. 

The group was able to secure more than 600 trees from Plant Five for Life, an organization with the goal of planting five trees for each child born in Allegheny County. Song first heard about Plant Five for Life at last year’s Lincoln School Readathon. The group was giving away trees as prizes.

  Plant Five  provided the trees, helped devise the COVID-19 planting strategy and assisted with species selection and logistics for the project.  Plant Five also provided tree shelters—the plastic tubes that protect the saplings. At a retail price of about $1.50 per shelter, the donation of 600 saved the group about $900.

  Song met with teachers who wanted to plant the trees on school grounds, but that turned out to be just one more thing the COVID-19 pandemic took away.

So they settled on Twin Hills Trails Park, located part in Mt. Lebanon and part in Scott Township. Twin Hills Trails has been the site of extensive invasive plant removal over the last couple of years, a joint venture between the municipality and the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy, resulting in the removal of honeysuckle and grapevine from about 7½ acres and the planting of about 75 trees and some smaller native plants. 

Group members met with the parks advisory board to explain their intentions and got its approval.

“There was no red tape or anything,” Song says.

Hazel Drive resident Mike Mooney, owner of Habitat Solutions, a native plant nursery that specializes in stream and wetland restoration, lent his expertise to the project.

“When (the parks advisory board) heard we were working with Mike, they gave us the go-ahead.”

Robert Mackey, Royce Avenue, collaborated with Song on the project.  He says they had two ideas for Twin Hills: nucleation and broadcast of trees. Applied nucleation is the process of establishing small patches of trees or shrubs to serve as the focal point for the regeneration of a forest. Once planted, these patches, or nuclei, attract seed dispersers (birds and insects who use the trees for food and spread the seeds), facilitating the broadcasting of new trees and shrubs, which expands the forest.

Charlee Song, Samantha Smith and Rob Mackey were among the 50 or so Trees for a Future volunteers who planted more than 600 trees in Twin Hills Trails Park in the spring. They’re planning on planting more this fall.

In April, the group gathered more than 50 volunteers who planted the trees, taking care to observe social distancing and other pandemic protocols. Among the species chosen for the park were black willow, silver maple, pin oak, red oak, arrowwood, dogwood, elderberry, witch hazel and redbud.

“People walking by saw what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it,” Mackey says. “One couple was out for a walk, it was their second date, they joined in and they came back later to help us with more work.”

Plant Five for Life has plans for planting more trees across the area this fall, and Christine Graziano, the group’s president, would like to work again with Trees For A Future.

“Charlee is a real mover and shaker,” says Graziano. “She was able to make this happen.”

Mackey is ready for the next round of planting. He says the group is looking at other spots in addition to Twin Hills, on school property if possible, or private property or in more Mt. Lebanon parks. Meanwhile, despite some early casualties to weather and other elements, the trees in Twin Hills are doing fine.

“This will be a beech-maple forest in 50 years,” says Mackey.

Photography by Renee Rosensteel