Smith Academy students replant trees along Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne

Khyree Barella, 17, left, and Elijah Gibson, 16, both from Smith Academy for Excellence, work on straightening a tree they planted Tuesday in the 600 block of West Main Street. Smith students helped plant eight trees in the landscape bed between Main Street and the Fort Wayne Newspapers parking lot. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Ivory silk lilac trees await planting Tuesday afternoon in the 600 block of West Main Street. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Derek Veit, right, urban forestry superintendent for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, shows Smith Academy for Excellence students, left, how to measure whether the hole is the proper depth when planting a tree. Carol Cavell, back right, executive director of the organization Trees Indiana, looks on. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Jajuan Gordon, 15, left, and Austin Mendez, 16, both of Smith Academy for Excellence, work on planting a tree Tuesday along the 600 block of West Main Street. The ivory silk lilac trees replace larger trees that had to be cut down because they were crowding power lines. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Carol Cavell, center, executive director of Trees Indiana, talks with Khyree Barella, 17, left, and Elijah Gibson, 16, both from Smith Academy for Excellence, as they finish planting a tree Tuesday in the 600 block of West Main Street. Trees Indiana worked Smith Academy on the project that also involved Fort Wayne Newspapers, the Downtown Improvement District and the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

First, they received a brief tutorial. Then students from Smith Academy for Excellence dug into planting eight trees along the 600 block of West Main Street to replace others that had been cut down because they had begun crowding power lines.

“I just want to help out,” said Elijah Gibson, 16, who worked with fellow student Khyree Barella, 17, to plant one of the eight ivory silk lilac trees on the ground between Main Street and the Fort Wayne Newspapers parking lot.

“I have planted trees a couple of times, but I learned more (Tuesday) about planting bigger trees,” Gibson said.

“I guess I feel satisfied I am helping my community, especially around my school,” Barella said.

Smith Academy is located a few blocks from Fort Wayne Newspapers in the school building at 725 W. Washington Blvd. that formerly served as the elementary school of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, 729 W. Washington Blvd. Fort Wayne Newspapers is the business partnership handling advertising sales, printing, delivery and other tasks for The News-Sentinel and Journal Gazette newspapers.

The tree-planting project came about through a collaboration among Fort Wayne Newspapers, Trees Indiana, the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, Carol Cavell, executive director of Trees Indiana, said during a phone interview last week.

Fort Wayne Newspapers, Trees Indiana and the DID are sharing the cost of the project, which also includes replacing two sidewalk benches and a litter receptacle, Cavell said. The parks department assisted with the tree planting and will provide mulch for the landscape bed in which the trees are planted.

The mission of Trees Indiana is to connect children with nature, educate them about it and prepare them to be the next generation of environmental stewards, Cavell said.

Trees Indiana and Smith Academy have worked together on previous tree-planting projects, she said. Smith students also will assist by planting trees at this year’s local Arbor Day celebration at 1 p.m. Friday at the Thieme Drive Overlook along the St. Marys River at Thieme Drive and Rockhill Street.

“Smith Academy always has had as one of our tenets, as part of our mission, to serve the community,” said W. Francis McGarry, assistant school leader.

Two years ago, the school started an outdoors program, which combines outdoor recreational activity with community volunteer service, McGarry said.

For example, Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot allowed the school to take students out on kayak trips on the rivers in downtown Fort Wayne, McGarry said. While they were out, students remove any trash they see in the rivers.

Similarly, McGarry said a local church provided bicycles for students, who now pedal the Rivergreenway. The students also have adopted and do clean up on the portion of the trail from the Old Fort to the Van Buren Street bridge. They also clean up a few small parks in the downtown area.

The school wants to give students a chance to learn about and enjoy the outdoors and other things Fort Wayne has to offer, McGarry said.

When students arrived for Tuesday’s tree planting, Derek Veit, Fort Wayne Parks’ superintendent of urban forestry brief tree-planting, gave them a brief demonstration on how to plant these larger trees. The trees, which came with a heavy ball of dirt and roots wrapped in burlap, measured about 2 inches in trunk diameter and about 6 to 8 feet tall.

Students learned how to make sure they planted the trees at the proper depth and to adjust them in the hole so the trunks point straight up. Holes for the trees had been dug in advance, but students had to add more dirt into most of the holes to raise the trees up to the proper planting depth.

Ivory silk lilac trees will flower and have vibrantly colored leaves, Cavell said. They grow to about 20 feet tall, so they shouldn’t cause any future problems with the power lines.

The trees aren’t native to Indiana, but they do well in local soils, she said. There aren’t many trees native to Indiana that grow to 20 feet or shorter in height, she added.

“Our hope is these students will be more likely to plant trees in the areas where they live,” Cavell said.

ARBOR DAY CELEBRATION

Fort Wayne will mark Arbor Day by planting trees at 1 p.m. Friday at the Thieme Drive Overlook at Thieme Drive and Rockhill Street.

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