By Alvin Benn
Prattville, AL (February 21, 2009)- Hundreds of volunteers spent much of Saturday planting trees along Sheila Boulevard and other areas hit hard during last year’s tornado. It will take decades for the trees to grow to their full height in yards where new houses were built within a few months of the Feb. 17, 2008 tornado.
When Beverly Byard, wife of Prattville Mayor Jim Byard, saw all the trees lying in yards after the storm passed through, she couldn’t get it out of her mind. That’s what prompted her and other garden club members to propose a community effort that became known as the “Prattville Releaf” program.
“Some of these trees will grow to be up to 70 feet tall at full maturity,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the trees can’t grow as fast as the houses.” Beverly Byard watched as a “ceremonial tree” was planted just across the street from the Church of the Living Waters which served as headquarters for the project. “It’s a nuttall Oak tree,” she said. “They are beautiful and I hope it will grow tall and beautiful.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, just back from a fact-finding trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the tree planting program is an example of “what America is all about.” “What we’re seeing here today is a community banding together after surviving a catastrophe like the one last year,” said Bright. “It’s in stark contrast to what I saw in Afghanistan.”
Sheila Boulevard was “ground zero” during the tornado which did not claim any lives, but inflicted millions of dollars in damages to houses along the street.
Mayor Byard said homeowners whose trees were ripped out of their root systems last year had an opportunity to select replacements from oaks, maples, crape myrtles, bald cypress, red twig dogwoods, crab apples and other varieties. He indicated Saturday morning that about 600 trees would be planted during the day as volunteers spread throughout neighborhoods hit hardest by the storm.
Scout troops, church groups, and the Air Force had representatives at the “releaf” project. Team leaders wore lime green T-shirts while volunteers wore brown shirts.
Maple trees that sprout bright red, orange and yellow leaves are popular in northern states. Residents who grew up in areas where maples flourish said this fall should tell the tale whether they’ll produce colors similar to those in New England states. One of the first maple trees was planted in the front yard of a Sheila Boulevard house owned by 75-year-old Snow Plumlee. After the tree was planted, she grabbed a garden hose and poured water into the freshly dug base.
“I went into my bathroom just before it hit my house,” Plumlee said. “It was completely destroyed.”
Not far away, Autauga County Superintendent of Education Greg Faulkner pitched in to help plant a tree in the front yard of another house. “This is a wonderful idea and it’s great to see the community support out here today,” said Faulkner. “These are very pretty trees.”
Volunteers arrived from throughout Alabama to help plant the trees. One group came from Gulf Shores which was devastated by Hurricane Frederic in 1979. Evelyn Sanders, a member of the Gulf Shores Beautification Board, was one of 13 volunteers who arrived in a group to help. “I’m from Pine Level originally,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Prattville had been hit by a tornado. We get hurricanes down our way.”
In addition to planting trees, about 2,000 seedlings were also given away to local residents who might like to plant their own in the coming months, said Beverly Byard.
Montgomery Advertiser- Hundreds of Volunteers to Releaf Prattville