MISSIONARY RIDGE – One hundred thirty-five schoolchildren planted ponderosa pine seedlings here Tuesday to speed the recovery of an area swept by wildfire in 2002.
Fourth- and fifth-graders from Silverton and fifth-graders from Bayfield toiled Tuesday. Today, a student contingent 175 strong from Bayfield will visit to do more of the same.
The project is timely, coming shortly after Earth Day and during what the United Nations has designated The Year of the Forest.
Students and adult volunteers received a crash course on planting seedlings from three U.S. Forest Service foresters – Gretchen Fitzgerald, Mark Krabath and Ashton Hargrove.
Then guided by volunteers, each student planted two or three trees. This is the second year area elementary school students have planted seedlings through the San Juan Mountains Association.
Nathan Blanton, a fifth-grader at Bayfield Elementary School, knew why he was there.
“A fire took out a ton of trees,” Nathan said. “I’m helping to replace them.”
Karen Fortus, a retired 35-year Forest Service employee now with the Kids for Trees program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, was observing.
“It’s important to teach children to be responsible for public land because it’s their land,” Fortus said. “If you get them young, it becomes a lifelong habit.”
The 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire scorched 72,000 acres and destroyed 50 homes or outbuildings. The burned area over time would revegetate naturally. But help from humans – aerial seeding and, on the ground, paid and volunteer hand crews – give Mother Nature a helping hand.