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Colorado Students Celebrate the International Year of Forests by Planting Trees

More than 1,200 students, teachers and Scouts recently planted 4,500 trees at the Monument Fire Center on the Pike National Forest in Celebration of the International Year of Forests and as part of an ongoing restoration project in the area. The event brought elementary school students from Rockrimmon and Discovery Canyon Campus schools in Colorado Springs, Colo., to learn about forests, the role of fire in the ecosystem and how forests protect water. Another 1,500 trees were planted by Boy and Girl Scouts from the area.

“The kids learned about wildlife, soils, and how the forest operates and what part they play in it,” said Brent Botts of the Pikes Peak District Ranger. Each day, 500 children gathered at the Fire Center eager to learn and, of course, plant a tree.  “I like planting trees because it helps the forest,” said Justin Ballard, 8. “Trees help clean the air, and they are pretty.”

Students from Discovery Campus Elementry School compare trees during the kids4Trees Event on the Pike National Forest.

The trees were planted in the 1988 Berry Fire burn area as part of the long-term rehabilitation plan.  Volunteers and forest service staff “predug” 2,200 holes to make the planting easier but many of the children wanted to dig the holes themselves. Armed with plastic shovels, the kids scratched at the rocky soil until they had enough space to plant their 2-year-old ponderosa pines. “I like digging . . . but my favorite part of planting is putting the dirt back in the hole,” said Connor Callussy, 7.

Projects like the tree planting is in line with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative that is about putting children on a path to a healthy future. An aspect of the initiative, Let’s Move Outside, is aimed at getting kids active outdoors not just to exercise but as a fun way to explore the great outdoors.

Students from Rockrimmon Elementry School dance with Forest Supervisor during Kids4Trees event on Pike National Forest.

After lunch and a concert of conservation songs the kids headed back to school. For their work, they each received a tree they could plant at home. But their work will be a lasting legacy as the trees they planted during the project will become the forest of tomorrow.  “These kids went home knowing that trees are an important part of the environment and that the ones they planted will be around a lot longer then they will,” said Botts.

The event was sponsored by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Kids4Trees and the U.S. Forest Service. The trees were grown by the Colorado State Forest Service and transported to the Forest Service’s Monument Fire Center, which ironically used to be a nursery until it became a fire center and home to the Pike Hot Shots and Monument Helitac.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to bolster efforts to promote sustainable management, conservation and development of forests worldwide. The official campaign will be celebrated on national, regional and local levels.