Forest ReLeaf of Missouri

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Published on: Sep. 18, 2013

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Volunteers range from families and retirees, to corporate and church volunteer groups, to Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists. Volunteers also join Forest ReLeaf after completing the seven-week “TreeKeepers” course taught by Walsh and other local forestry professionals. It is one of several outreach and education programs they offer. The program is free to the public and, in exchange, participants agree to volunteer 24 hours at the nursery or in their communities.

History of the Organization

The group began to form on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, when several local agencies came together as St. Louis Area Global ReLeaf and organized to plant 10,000 trees in a single day. The group soon realized a more formal structure was required to maintain that momentum. In 1993, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri was incorporated with a mission to bring volunteers together to plant trees in Missouri’s communities. Originally the group was known as Forest ReLeaf of Greater St. Louis but broadened their scope to include the whole state. This October they will celebrate their 20th anniversary with an evening celebration and a commemorative tree planting. All are welcome. The event will be held at the Forest Park Visitor Center, Oct. 17, from 6 to 10 p.m. Ticket prices start at $25.

The Early Days

Jim Horn has volunteered with the group for nearly 20 years. He remembers the nursery’s humble beginning as “a rubble-strewn plot of about 10 acres, the demolition site of a school building under the approach area of incoming planes.” However, by the end of the second year of operation, and thanks to the foresight and labor of the first forester (Mark Grueber, now an urban forester with the Conservation Department) and about five regular volunteers, that rubble-strewn plot became a nursery of several thousand trees neatly lined up on a bed of wood chips donated by local tree-trimming companies. “I remember the forester in those early days building a road through the 10-acre nursery with a wheelbarrow and a pile of gravel,” says Horn.

Today the nursery stands on a large, level, white gravel area in Creve Coeur Park and includes a large shed, a newly hand-built hoop house, and an irrigation system. Even though the nursery has grown exponentially, the work is still done under the supervision of a single forester — and many more volunteers.

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