Updated: Jul 4
The call went out to “Let’s Plant Some Trees” and the community responded in force, planting some 20,000 longleaf pine seedlings at the Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve in Plant City on June 12.
Presented by the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD), the planting falls under the HSWCD's Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, an annual showcase of "Action Awareness Projects" that cover a wide range of efforts, including waterway cleanups, road debris pick-ups, rainwater harvesting, recycling efforts, community gardening, pollinator plantings and more. Launched in 2016, the Hillsborough 100 initiative is open to individuals and groups, including schools, civic organizations, service clubs, businesses, nonprofits and more.
With 20,000 longleaf pine seedlings to plant across an 80-acre block of the 12,800-acre preserve, groups and individuals came ready to dig in for what turned out to be for many their first significant outing since the COVID-19 pandemic broke. Making the event possible was a donation of seedlings from The Sustany Foundation, which in January 2019 planted the seeds in “little boxes” in Jacksonville before they were ready for the June planting, according to Andrea Cheney, Sustany’s executive director.
“I am just close to tears, happy tears, because it turns out people want to plant trees,” said Cheney, whose nonprofit aims to be “the place to go for carbon offsets in Tampa.”
“It’s important to replenish the environment and trees absorb the carbon dioxide that we breathe out and create the air that we breathe in,” said John R.F. Humphreys, a 4-H club member as well as a Sea Scout, Boy Scout and U.S. Naval Sea Cadet.
Also a volunteer, Sarah Behnke was on hand with her children and colleagues from HDR Engineering. The outdoor event, which limited attendance to around 200 people because of COVID-19 protocols, “was a great opportunity for us to get together, to get that team mentality and to see each other face-to-face,” Behnke said. “This is our first event together since the pandemic started.”
Among the event supporters was TREE, Inc., which at the tree-planting received recognition as the Florida Urban Forestry Council’s 2020 Tree Advocacy Group. Since 1983, the Tampa Bay Reforestation and Environmental Effort (TREE) has planted more than 28,000 trees in the region over the course of more than 500 reclamation projects, according to the nonprofit’s web site.
Additional supporters included Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management, Hillsborough Sustainability, The Mosaic Company in Lithia, Winthrop Town Centre in Riverview, Florida Strawberry Growers Association in Dover, Odiorne Insurance in Brandon and the Rotary Club of Brandon Eco Global, formerly known as the Rotary Club of Brandon South. As its primary focus, the Rotary club has adopted “sustaining the environment,” which is the newest of Rotary International’s seven focus areas.
Refreshments were provided by the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee and the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District. Volunteers received gift bags filled with items donated by multiple groups and agencies and a free, commemorative event T-shirt printed with the event title on the front and a list of supporters on the back. The T-shirts for printing were purchased and repurposed from the Emergency Care Health Organization (ECHO) in Brandon and Riverview, which runs also an ECHO Thrift Boutique in Brandon.
“The tree planting, the largest event of its kind in Hillsborough County, reflected the importance of our philosophy that ‘conservation is everybody’s business” and that public engagement is critical,” said HSWCD Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins. “The great thing about events like this is that we are able to connect the dots. Not only did we get to benefit in ways to fulfill our mission, but likewise all types of other groups in the community got to benefit as well, including ECHO in its work to help people in emergency situations.”
Click through the slideshow below for scenes from the planting, followed by a gallery of photos as well. Thank you for your participation and stay tuned for what's next!