ROYAL OAK – Meininger Park is the Makar family’s home away from home.
Spring, summer and fall, Andrea Makar walks her children down to the nearby park where towering oak trees provide just the right amount of shade for the neighbors who love to congregate there.
It’s a treasure Makar wants to ensure is there for generations to come. That is why she raised enough donations this year to help plant a total of 18 trees at Meininger Park and nearby Fernwood Park.
“My concern is that disease, storms and age threaten to change the landscape of the park,” she said.
“So if we don’t proactively grow this tree canopy we will lose the feeling that makes the park so special,” said Makar, who explained that a tree canopy is the layer of leaves, branches, and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.
On Saturday, Makar joined with members of ReLeaf Michigan, the city of Royal Oak, the Meininger Park Neighborhood Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to plant the trees.
The activity represents one of many tree plantings undertaken by ReLeaf Michigan, a statewide nonprofit organization that for 29 years has worked with community groups to educate the public on proper tree care. The group partners with neighborhood organizations from cities and towns across the state to help orchestrate the plantings and share the cost with them.
“Trees are often taken for granted. But they play an important role in a community’s social well-being, they improve the health of residents, they boost the value of your property, and they even increase a city’s economic prosperity,” said Melinda Jones, ReLeaf Michigan’s executive director.
Trees provide key benefits for all
When you think of Michigan, you often think of the lush, green forests found “Up North.”
But forests also play a vital role in urban communities large and small where trees – or the lack of trees – affect the environment and the quality of life of the people who live there.
“Trees really do pay us back in terms of the environmental benefits,” said Kevin Sayers, Urban and Community Forestry program coordinator of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Sayers and the DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program share a common goal with organizations such as ReLeaf Michigan to increase public awareness about the important socio-economic, health and environmental benefits that trees produce across the state.
“For every $1 spent on planting a tree, we receive $3 in environmental service benefits. So it really does make sense to invest in community trees.”
In urban areas, for example, Sayers said forests provide a range of benefits including reduced energy use, improved water quality, diverse wildlife habitat, noise abatement and increased health and well-being for people who live there.
National research also shows healthy trees can add between 7 and 11 percent to the value of a property, and homes with treed lots sell faster than those without trees. In business districts, customers spend up to 11 percent more and prefer to shop in areas where trees and landscaping are attractive and well maintained, he noted.
From the 200-acre urban forest on Detroit’s Belle Isle to the sprawling public forests of the eastern Upper Peninsula, the DNR is responsible for the professional, sustainable management of one of the largest state forest systems in the nation.
State foresters work day after day to make sure Michigan’s 4 million acres of state forestland remain in balance to meet the needs of both people and wildlife, ensuring that these lands remain available for future generations to enjoy.
Fortunately, trees are a renewable resource. In fact, overall, Michigan’s forests are growing considerably faster than they are being harvested. Each year 2.7 times more wood is grown than harvested.
Trees improve air quality and help keep Michigan lakes and streams clean for people and wildlife.
“Carefully managed and sustainable forests, whether they’re in the heart of Detroit or in the heart of the Upper Peninsula, are essential for a healthy environment. That’s why we work so hard to keep our forests strong and abundant,” said Debbie Begalle, DNR’s assistant chief of Forestry Resources.
Growing the tree canopy
A community’s urban forest is made up of every tree found there – in parks, along streets, on golf courses and in backyards. An urban forest canopy is defined as the total land area covered by trees.
Of Michigan’s nearly 10 million residents, almost 80 percent live in urbanized areas.
Sayers says studies have estimated more than 100 million trees exist in cities large and small.
The average tree canopy in urban areas in Michigan is 29 percent. In Detroit, it is about 24 percent. .
Unfortunately, due to disease, storm devastation and budget cuts, Detroit’s tree canopy today is just over half of the amount urban forest experts recommend. Much of the current tree stock also is reaching the end of its lifespan, so planting more trees in Detroit is both an environmental and community health priority.
People in communities across Michigan – including those in Metro Detroit – are striving to expand tree canopy cover.
They do this by planting trees and community gardens, assisting neighborhood groups in creating block clubs, envisioning green changes for vacant lots, and coordinating neighborhood cleanups. They also support local city and village efforts to plant new trees and protect existing trees.
“The DNR provides technical and educational expertise to help improve people’s understanding of the role trees play in the ‘built environment’ – whether it’s in heavily urbanized areas such as Detroit or in smaller, rural communities throughout the state,” Sayers said.
Growing healthy forests also can improve a community’s quality of life.
“More and more studies are being conducted on the well-being that trees provide to people in the sense of peace and beauty,” Begalle said.
Some evidence shows a correlation between access to trees and a reduction in crime and stress, shorter hospital stays, lower blood pressure and a reduced need for medication.
“Healthy forests benefit all of us and are essential to the people and wildlife who call Michigan home,” Begalle said.
Watch ReLeaf Michigan in action as 80 volunteers planted 100 trees this May in Stein and Fitzpatrick-Warwick Parks in the Cody-Rouge community in Detroit.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Michigan Department of Natural Resources.