Tree planting aims to restore shade, beauty taken by tornado

Tree planting aims to restore shade, beauty taken by tornado

GAYLORD — Community groups and more than 100 volunteers came together to plant trees in courtyards and public spaces across Gaylord on May 19, a day before the anniversary of a powerful tornado that struck the area a year ago.

Partners from Huron Pines, Huron Pines AmeriCorps, Otsego Community Foundation, Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group, the City of Gaylord, ReLeaf Michigan and the DTE Foundation organized the tree planting and coordinated volunteers for the effort, which resulted in 110 trees being planted on private property were and public property. Another 30 trees and shrubs were gifted to landowners affected by the tornado but who live just outside the city limits.

The community project restores the city’s tree canopy, increases climate resilience, and brings shade and beauty to public spaces and the homes of residents affected by the May 20, 2022 tornado. It is the latest in an ongoing recovery effort and was part of a larger three-day community event to mark the anniversary of the storm.

Volunteers gather at the Pavilion on Court in Gaylord before spreading across the city on May 19 to plant trees in homes and parks.

More:Reconstruction and healing continue a year after the devastating tornado in Gaylord

Erin Mann is the Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group, which has been providing support and services to affected individuals and families for the past year. She said the aftermath of the tornado left people disoriented by the drastic change in their landscape and lost the memories residents associated with trees planted and cared for by their parents and grandparents.

“Besides the environmental benefits of trees, they also have sentimental and emotional value for people,” Mann said in a statement. “Replanting trees is a symbol of recovery and hope for the future as we watch them grow. Our community is filled with kindness and volunteers are engaging in this process because they wish for Gaylord to make a full recovery.”

AmeriCorps members Hollie Nusbaum, Riley St. John, Jenny Taratuta and Annika Nelson (from left) volunteered to plant trees in Gaylord on May 19.

The tree planting served Huron Pines AmeriCorps’ annual Russ Mawby Signature Service Project, an annual event that addresses needs such as park cleanups, neighborhood beautification projects, and trail maintenance in communities throughout Michigan. In advance of the event, Huron Pines AmeriCorps members selected suitable tree species and coordinated with property owners affected by the tornado.

On planting day, all two dozen members of the Huron Pines AmeriCorps, along with volunteers, worked to plant 70 redbud, red maple, serviceberry, sugar maple and white pine trees in homes across the city. ReLeaf Michigan and volunteers planted an additional 40 trees on public land.

Lisha Ramsdell is the Associate Director of Huron Pines, which oversees the AmeriCorps program.

“Meeting with residents who were affected by the tornado a year ago and for them to see the community come together and replace their lost trees was a positive experience for everyone,” said Ramsdell. “Huron Pines AmeriCorps is about harnessing the expertise of our members to meet the needs of their communities and joining with others around the common goal of helping their neighbors.”

Bud Palin, a survivor of the May 2022 tornado, reflects on the storm as volunteers plant new trees in his yard.

Bud Palin is among the residents who had trees installed on their property during the event. The storm severely damaged his home and destroyed over two dozen spruce trees he and his daughters planted in his backyard five decades ago. Photos taken immediately after the tornado show Palin’s house buried in a mass of tangled branches and splintered trunks.

He watched as a group of volunteers took to his street to plant 8-foot sugar maples on his property and those of his neighbors, restoring some of the tree cover he had lost.

“That’s wonderful,” Palin said, looking out over his newly planted trees. “All the community support after the tornado was just amazing. It strengthens my belief that there are many good people in this world.”

Volunteers install trees in Gaylord on May 19.

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Project funders include the DTE Energy Foundation, the Michigan Community Service Commission, the Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society, the Rotary Club of Gaylord, and the Otsego Community Foundation’s Tornado Response Fund.

Dana Bensinger is Executive Director of the Otsego Community Foundation. She said the Tornado Response Fund, which was initially used to provide emergency shelter and home repairs immediately after the storm, has now moved to support long-term recovery projects like this one.

“This fund was established to provide donors with a centralized way to invest in disaster relief efforts and accelerate the process of rebuilding into a thriving, resilient and even stronger Gaylord,” Bensinger said.

Lilly Kelsey, a member of the Huron Pines AmeriCorps, helps plant trees in Gaylord on May 19.

Gaylord Mayor Todd Sharrard addressed the day’s volunteers as they gathered under the pavilion in the morning and thanked them for their efforts in helping the region continue to heal.

“This event is just another example of our community coming together to replace what the tornado took from them,” Sharrard said. “Planting trees is another step back to normal for many. May the anniversary of the historic tornado serve as a reminder of our community’s resilience.”