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March Madness

“We’re not sure how it happened,” reflected sustainability educator Ginny Johnson, “but all of a sudden we had multiple tree planting projects filling our calendar like our own version of March Madness.”  In the space of 3 fast-paced weeks, Boxerwood & friends knocked out four big projects that put 244 new trees into Rockbridge soil. Buttonbush, sycamore, river birch and more: 156 folks picked up their shovels to make it happen, almost all of them between the ages of 12 and 22. 


“Early spring is a perfect time for planting trees,” noted Boxerwood volunteer coordinator Karen Stanley, also former VDOF forester. “It’s before leaf-out, so less stress for the transplants.” The month of March also coincides with the school-preferred time for environmental service projects: not too early, when it’s cold, and not too late, when schools are busy with end-of-year testing. 


March 2024 was the busiest Boxerwood tree planting season yet. The season kicked off with an all-day 103-tree planting along Union Run, in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). In this partnership, CBF provided trees and technical assistance while Boxerwood recruited, trained, and supervised the volunteers who put the trees in the ground. As it turned out, two teachers from Rockbridge County HS had been looking for a hands-on project for their 60 environmental science students … and the rest is history. 


“The teens had been studying about watershed protection and climate change in class.” said Ginny. “They were able to put their knowledge into action with this project, plus they got to meet CBF professionals for career connections.”


A second major planting occurred a week later as part of a habitat creation project at a pond site located just outside Lexington. Property owners were keen to plant more trees for wildlife and began collaborating with Boxerwood last fall on a plan. Since the site is within walking distance from Maury River MS, Boxerwood led several groups of afterschool students to the site last December. The groups planted several dozen trees, but there were hundreds to go.


Happily, additional help arrived this spring from an unexpected source. Out of the blue, sponsors of the junior honor societies at both Lylburn Downing MS and Maury River MS contacted Boxerwood. “They were looking for an outdoor service project where students from both schools could help the community while also getting to know each other prior to high school. Planting trees at the pond fit the bill!,” said Ginny. 


More than 65 students turned out on Friday, March 22 to get the job done. “There was a morning shift and an afternoon shift,” she explained, with students assisted by Boxerwood, their teachers, parent volunteers, and several hardy volunteers from the Green Hills Garden Club. 


“This was our largest planting of the season,” said Ginny, explaining the students planted in small teams that also helped build social connections. “The kids worked hard, and they loved it.  One boy told us he could have kept planting trees all day long!,” she said. The trees for this project arrived in pots from two grow-out nurseries, part of existing tree stock created by children in Boxerwood’s county-wide gr. 4 “Growing Native” program. 


In a unique twist, a number of the trees the students planted were in fact the very same trees that they themselves had put into pots during their elementary school years. “When younger kids place their bare root seedlings into pots in the spring of their 4th grade year they give the trees nicknames, which Boxerwood educators write on the pots.  During this project, one girl was very excited to actually find and put into permanent Rockbridge soil the tree she had first befriended back in this gr. 4 program!”


Use the arrows < > to click through the images.


The Boxerwood-grown natives were also used in the final two early spring projects. “We had been in touch with the City of Lexington for awhile to restore some trees at Jordan’s Point,” said Ginny, “but we were looking for the right volunteer group.” On Saturday, March 30, enthusiastic students from the Washington and Lee Student Environmental Action League (SEAL) planted several riparian species along the Maury River. A separate, 4-H sponsored project also planted numerous trees at the Park that month, bringing additional synergy.


Treemania wrapped up the following Saturday with a Boxerwood-based planting by another student-led group. Led by RCHS senior Ella Schmidt, Project Connections brings abled and differently-abled youth together for service and fun. “We needed some more trees at the Fairy Forest,” explained Karen, referring to a popular play spot at Boxerwood. “Many of the teens had enjoyed years at Boxerwood as younger kids,” she said, “so it was a wonderful give-back afternoon as everyone worked together. A big thank you to these volunteers as well as all the other volunteer groups this busy tree-planting season – this is important, timely and valuable work.” 


Community groups interested in future garden projects are welcome to contact Karen at karen@boxerwood.org. Those with tree planting interests are also encouraged to contact Ginny Johnson at ginny@boxerwood.org


Ginny is also the coordinator for COREworks, Boxerwood’s carbon offset marketplace, to which all the March Madness tree planting projects are linked. “Now that the 244 new trees are in the ground,” said Ginny, “we can use our industry formulas to calculate the amount of carbon sequestered over a 20-year growth period.” Consumers in turn can secure the offsets to reduce their own carbon footprint from activities like travel (one roundtrip airflight to the West Coast equals about 1 metric ton per person of carbon emissions). All proceeds from the COREworks marketplace in turn help fund additional carbon offset projects in Rockbridge, including more tree planting. 


The March Madness suite of projects is anticipated to sequester at least 16 tons of carbon while also bringing additional ecological and social benefits. For more information or to secure an offset, visit www.coreworks.boxerwood.org.

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