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Volunteer effort halfway to 1,000 trees planted in Catonsville

The Catonsville Tree Canopy Project planted its 500th tree Saturday morning

More two dozen volunteers gathered in Catonsville Saturday morning to help the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project mark the halfway point in its goal of planting 1,000 new trees in Catonsville by 2020.

"It's a perfect day to plant trees" said Jim Himel, head of the Canopy Project, as the rain fell on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and temperatures steadily dropped.

Himel, along with volunteers stationed at CCBC, the Academy Heights neighborhood and Fairfield Drive worked to plant 75 trees to bring the total number of trees the group has planted over the past five years to 500.

At CCBC, the group planted a mix of 60 American elm trees and flowering cherry trees in a campus parking lot where numerous ash trees were removed earlier this month due to concern over the destructive pest, the emerald ash borer.

In Academy Heights, where homeowners volunteered their property for planting, and along Fairfield Drive, volunteers planted a total of 15 American elms.

The Tree Canopy Project was begun in 2010 with the goal of increasing the number of trees along Catonsville's streets and in the area's public spaces. Relying solely on donations and aided by a grant from Baltimore Gas and Electric, the group hopes to build Catonsville into a greener, more sustainable community by increasing tree coverage all over town.

So far, the group has planted trees in the Melvin Park neighborhood, along the Edmondson Avenue median, at Hillcrest Elementary School on Frederick Road, Mount De Sales Academy in Academy Heights, Westowne Elementary School on Harlem Lane, Catonsville High School on Bloomsbury Avenue, the Catonsville Library on Frederick Road and the Catonsville United Methodist Church on Melvin Avenue, and in the Academy Heights, Oak Forest and Old Catonsville neighborhoods, Himel said.

Each planting, Himel said, has relied entirely on volunteers from the Catonsville community.

On Saturday, as on many other days the Canopy Project has organized tree plantings, the largest number of volunteers have come with local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts troops, he said.

"We've had armies of Cub Scouts come out here and shovel dirt. The core labor comes from the two Boy Scout troops," Himel said. "They're experts."

"Every year, we have some kind of tree planting thing," said Aidan Kujan, a member of Troop 456 at St. Mark Catholic Church on Melvin Avenue and an eighth-grader at Arbutus Middle School. "It's always fun."

Kujan, with the help of fellow Arbutus Middle School student Ed Parker, a member of Troop 307 at Catonsville United Methodist Church, and BGE forestry director William Rees, planted about eight trees Saturday morning.

"They've been great," Rees said. "They've been awesome."

While the rainy weather wasn't helpful in getting volunteers to come participate, it was good for the trees, Rees said, saving the group the effort of having to water them after getting them in the ground.

For the next five years, volunteers from the Canopy Project will closely monitor the trees, pruning them and watering them as needed, Rees said.

It will take about 30 years for most of the trees to reach mature height, he said, but growth should be visible a year from now.

Working near Rees, Kujan and Parker were James Lauer and brothers Gabe and Greg Martin, all of whom are members of Troop 456.

Although the Scouts said they signed up for the tree planting partially to accumulate some needed service hours, they said the chance to get outside and work in the dirt was an added benefit.

"Seeing the trees bloom and just get bigger and I get to tell people I did it," is the best part of participating in a tree planting, said Gabe Martin, a ninth-grader at Catonsville High School.

For the members of Cub Scout Pack 456, the best part, they agreed, was definitely the dirt.

"Boys like moving dirt," said Patrick Tis, 10, a student at Hillcrest Elementary, echoing a sentiment he heard from one of the group member's parents.

For most of the Cub Scouts at CCBC, it was the first time they'd done a tree planting. Tis said he had helped plant some trees at his house in the past.

"[I learned] that at my house we've been doing it totally wrong," he said.

Nick Ferrante, 11, another Hillcrest student, was just happy to be outside.

"I'd rather be doing this than doing other chores," he said as the boys debated whether it was more fun than swimming.

"A year from now, I don't even know how big this tree will be," said Lucas Vandewinckel, 11, a student at Woodbridge Elementary School in Westview. "When I'm a junior in high school, this will be 20 feet tall, I bet."

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