Iowa City receives grants to plant trees

Amid a statewide increase in tree loss, Iowa City receives $15,000 to plant new trees.


Rohan Abernathy-Wee

Young trees seen outside Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on Monday, April 3, 2023.

Jack Moore, News Reporter

Johnson County high school students and staff will soon plant trees to help restore Iowa City’s tree population, which took losses with the 2020 derecho and Emerald Ash Borer infestation.

The Iowa City Department of Parks and Recreation received $15,000 for two grants intended to help plant 65 new trees in the area. The grants come when the state of Iowa is from tree loss, especially after the 2020 derecho.

Students from West Branch High School will help plant the trees at Lower City Park during the school’s service day on April 26. Iowa City superintendent of parks and forestry Tyler Baird said the volunteering opportunity helps the city get trees planted and gives students an opportunity to learn.

Baird said the first tree plantings funded by the Community Forestry Grant program were planted in the fall of 2021.

“We’re able to not only get help planting the trees but teach the students how to plant properly, expose them to what careers in forestry or the green industry might look like. Things that they may not have had experience with before,” he said.

Baird also said a variety of volunteers have helped the city plant trees over the last two years, starting with Wetherby Park in 2021. Efforts have expanded to Thornbury, Riverfront, and now Lower City Park.

Kristen Westpheling, the faculty advisor for West Branch High School’s National Honor Society chapter, said the school has tied blankets and cleaned up litter in the past.

Westpheling said students from the school’s National Honor Society chapter reached out to participate in the project and helped organize the volunteering event. There are 28 students, 50 staff members, and around 220 students that will all participate in service day.

The event helps give kids opportunities they would not normally have to give back to the Iowa City community, she said.

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A survey conducted by Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources shows that Iowa lost 7 million rural and urban trees from the derecho in August 2020. Tree loss also increased from the invasive wood-boring beetle known as Emerald Ash Borer.

First discovered in Iowa in 2010, Emerald Ash Borer is a wood-boring beetle originally from east Asia. Adult beetles will live on the outside of the infested ash trees during the summer months and tunnel into the bark during the winter, killing the tree.

“Giving them the opportunity to go back out into the community and, you know, provide a service, I think is really good for them to experience because not all of them really ever have that opportunity prior to this day,” Westpheling said.

The grants will combat elevated levels of tree loss from the derecho and Emerald Ash Borer across the state. The Community Forestry Grant Program has given a total of 27 counties grant money for tree planting and accounts for $10,000 given to Iowa City.

The remaining $5,000 was provided by MidAmerican Every Company’s Trees Please program. Created in 1998, Trees Please has spent over $4.4 million on tree-planting programs. In Iowa, the program has given over $100,000 to 55 communities.

Emma Hanigan, Iowa Department of Natural Resources urban forestry coordinator, said the program is a mixture of state and federal funds in response to the derecho. The grant has helped plant 5,365 trees through 120 separate projects in the last two years.

“We’re very thankful that the state and the federal government has acknowledged our rapid, catastrophic loss of trees in Iowa,” Hanigan said. We’re just thankful that we can continue these plantings.”