Members of ReLeaf Cville’s Green Team will be spending time Thursday learning the ropes of tree care — literally.
The teens will test their balance on boards, try out tree saddles and practice handling ropes in McIntire Park to get a feel for how professional arborists conduct tree maintenance. It’s the fourth session in a program that’s teaching young people not only how to care for trees, but why they matter in urban environments like theirs.
"They’ll get to see what it’s like to be an arborist in the trees," said Peggy Van Yahres, chair of ReLeaf Cville, which works to plant trees, preserve existing trees and educate people about the health benefits trees provide.
Last year, in the program’s first year, ReLeaf Cville planted 40 trees in Charlottesville’s 10th and Page neighborhood. This year, the students are working and learning in the Rose Hill neighborhood.
The program is calling attention to the perils of declining tree canopy percentages in Charlottesville neighborhoods, Van Yahres said — and getting young people informed and involved.
The students will stay busy, because Rose Hill’s tree canopy is down to about 20%, Van Yahres said. "We have 19 neighborhoods in the city, and 12 of them are below 40%," she said.
Neighborhoods stripped of trees have fewer shady sidewalks for pedestrians, hotter pavement and higher utility bills, but people don’t always make the connection between those factors and health problems.
Last year’s focus on the 10th and Page neighborhood offered a sobering glimpse of the price residents pay when fewer trees are present to provide shade and produce oxygen. Van Yahres said statistics show that 10th and Page is "the hottest neighborhood in the city" and has "the highest rates of strokes and heart attacks, and also has one of the highest rates of asthma."
A ReLeaf Cville session last year surprised participants at Venable Elementary School who used thermometers to confirm that a shaded playground at the school was a cooler, safer alternative at 82 degrees than a playground without shade that clocked in at 102 degrees, Van Yahres said.
Other benefits of maintaining trees in urban environments include improving storm drainage and offering shelter to wildlife.
The Green Team’s first lesson last year took members to Washington Park with Steve Gaines, the city’s urban forester, to learn how to identify different trees and invasive plants. The students went to Ivy Creek Natural Area for their second session to meet Master Gardeners and learn more about nature and its creatures. The third session included a lesson on climate change and how it affects Charlottesville with Susan Kruse, director of C3, and took students back to Washington Park to find out which team member could identify the most plants using the Seek app.
After Thursday’s lesson in tree care, the next Green Team event will be in September, when members will hone old-school communication skills by asking Rose Hill neighbors if they’d like free trees, which the team will plant for them in October. Adults will accompany Green Team members on this exercise.
"They learn how to talk to people," Van Yahres said. "When they have to explain the value of trees, they really learn it."
Green Team members took this lesson to heart last year while meeting 10th and Page neighbors, and they became quite persuasive, Van Yahres said. "There are only 70 homeowners in 10th and Page, and we thought we’d only give out about 20 trees, but we doubled that," she said.
To learn more about ReLeaf Cville and its mission, go to www.releafcville.org.