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Six Months After Derecho, Cedar Rapids Advances A Plan To Restore Tree Canopy

There are downed trees everywhere after Monday's storm.
Kate Payne
/
IPR file
Children play on some of the downed trees near Redmond Park in Cedar Rapids in the wake of the Aug. 10 derecho.

Six months after the derecho carved a path of devastation across Iowa, the city of Cedar Rapids is advancing a plan to regrow its urban forest. It will take years to restore the towering trees that were leveled by the hurricane-force winds; some 70 percent of the public tree canopy has been lost since the storm.

The sight of massive, centuries-old trees uprooted entirely were among the most searing images in the aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho. The breathtakingly intense straight-line wind storm leveled trees older than the state of Iowa, some peeling back the earth as they bowed and shattered beneath the 140 mile per hour winds, comparable to a Category 4 hurricane.

Six months later, some of the debris still being hauled away.

“You notice that the smaller trees, the ones that are 6 to 12 inches in diameter at about 4.5 feet off the ground, we didn’t lose a lot of those,” Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock told the city council this week. “We lost our older, more well-established trees which provided a lot more of the canopy for us.”

It will take generations to fully restore Cedar Rapids’ prized trees, but city officials are beginning the next phase of that work in earnest. This week the City Council approved a $500,000 memorandum of understanding with local non-profit Trees Forever to draft a reforestation plan, along with renowned urban planner Jeff Speck and the firm Confluence, Inc.

The ReLeaf Cedar Rapids program will ultimately cover every neighborhood and will guide reforestation efforts on public and private lands over the next decade or more.

City officials plan to prioritize diversity in the kinds of trees planted, with an emphasis on native varieties, and develop the plan with “a lens of equity shaping the work”, focusing efforts in areas that saw significant losses and in areas where neighborhoods residents may be less able to afford replanting on their own.

“Once cleanup is done, how are we going to address this issue and bring back the beautiful urban forest that we had?” Hock said. “Our goal is to bring it back in the right way. And that takes some planning and some effort to make sure we’re doing it correctly.”

Trees Forever Founding President and CEO Shannon Ramsay says the plan will depend on the work of dedicated volunteers for years to come, including “treekeepers," volunteer arborists who will be trained to plant, prune and care for trees in their own neighborhoods.

“This plan will engage neighbors, neighborhoods, volunteers. We want a treekeeper in every neighborhood. It’s going to take an army of volunteers,” Ramsay said. “I just want to remind us all, that we are…we’re not just replanting, we are growing.”

Beyond the much-needed replanting of the trees themselves, Mayor Brad Hart said he sees the effort as an opportunity for community building and healing as well.

“This is going to be an opportunity for neighbors to work together, to be outside and work together to rebuild, replant their neighborhoods,” Hart said. “And I think that’s going to be a really…a bright spot as part of this entire effort.”

Some replanting has already started, with some 1,600 new trees in the ground. In the coming months, the city will hold public meetings and conduct surveys to gather input on the plan and recruit volunteers to help implement it.