KEENE - Close to 100 people braved the rain Friday morning to plant trees in communities along the AuSable River devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.
The Lake Champlain Basin "Trees for Tributaries" program, organized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, aims to restore and protect stream corridors connected to Lake Champlain following historic flooding Aug. 28.
Rob Davies, a forester with DEC, said the inclement weather was actually good for Friday's tree planting event.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation staffer loads trees onto a trailer before Friday’s “Trees for Tributaries” event in Keene.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee, far left, and state Department of Environmental Conservation Forester Rob Davies, right of Ferebee, discuss river clean up on the banks of the East Branch of the AuSable River across from Marcy Field.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"Cold and wet - that is what's perfect for planting trees," he told the Enterprise. "That's why the fall is such a good time to plant trees: They tend to have a high survival rate."
According to Davies, planting trees along the river helps restore shorelines and tributaries. It also protects the surrounding habitat in the event of heavy rain and flooding.
"It prevents erosion," Davies said. "The plants help absorb a lot of the rain and water fall, so it helps slow down the flow when you have large rain events. It provides a great habitat for fish and wildlife by providing shade and keeping the rivers cool; it just provides a much healthier ecosystem along the river corridors."
Volunteers from the Adirondacks and beyond helped DEC forest rangers, environmental conservation officers and wildlife staff plant trees in Keene, Keene Valley, Jay and Lake Placid.
Kerry Merchant, of Ohio, is a student at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. She and her classmates from the school's La Vida Center for Outdoor Education and Leadership traveled to the Adirondacks as part of their course curriculum.
"We really love this area and so we wanted to try and give back to the area by planting trees and doing some service work," Merchant said. "This was our fall break, so instead of just relaxing, we came up here to work."
Younger students also laced up their work boats to lend a hand. A group of homeschoolers, led by instructor Tara Mulvey, of Wilmington, helped plant trees as a way to help out neighbors and friends hurt by Irene.
"They hopefully will come out of this with a vision, more of an appreciation of what can happen with a tree and without a tree," Mulvey said.
Sara Wolf, one of Mulvey's students, said she was happy to do something to potentially help in the event of future flooding.
"I wish it had been a nicer day to plant trees," she quipped. "But I feel like I'm doing something to prevent more damage like what happened in August. I feel good about it."
Those positive vibes were evident despite the dreary weather. For much of September and early October, local government leaders and environmentalists battled over how river clean up was being handled.
But on Friday, those differences were put aside.
"This is a great event," said Bill Ferebee, supervisor of the town of Keene. "It shows us the representation that we do have with DEC and other agencies, to give the town this opportunity to rebuild and re-stabilize our banks with these trees. It's hard to believe that we can stand here today, even though it is damp, that we would have been standing in about 6-feet of water back on Aug. 29."
The trees were shipped to the Adirondacks from the State Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs. Nursery Manager David Lee said the planting stock is grown within New York to provide trees and shrubs that are already adapted to the region's climate.
DEC Forest Ranger Charlie Platt said most of the trees planted Friday were balsam, tamarack and red maple.