TREEmendous reforestation day at MAST Academy

Miami, FL (January 11, 2010)- While the extended cold snap caused iguanas to drop from trees in Key Biscayne, volunteers braved bitterly cold morning rain and wind on January 9 to restore the native habitat at MAST Academy in Virginia Key. The effort was a collaboration between the ‘Trees for Tracks’ outreach program of Florida rail company CSX, the Alliance for Community Trees (ACT), and its local partner, TREEmendous Miami, the Care Force division of the City Year national youth service program, and MAST Academy.

Approximately 30 students, a handful of parents and teachers and more than 60 volunteers from South Florida and across the country planted 200 native trees, palms and shrubs of 35 species. Holes were dug by a crew from Albert Livingston Tree Farms on January 7, according to a plan developed by TREEmendous Miami experts. The raw weather conditions acted as a catalyst for the impromptu planting teams. Plants were installed, the soil was tamped and mulch was applied in record time. Mother Nature provided the initial irrigation. The volunteers were rewarded for their efforts with a verdant landscape as well as hot beverages, breakfast and box lunches.
Wafa Khalil, Chair of the MAST Science and Mathematics Department and a long-time proponent of native planting on campus, was thrilled with the outcome. “The [volunteers] are very determined. Can you imagine turning out in this weather?” she exclaimed. “CSX got in touch with TREEmendous and told them they wanted to sponsor a planting event,” Khalil added.
The importance of the event was not lost on MAST students. “One thing we’ve learned from our textbooks is deforestation is getting pretty common and we aren’t doing enough about it,” commmented Tasha Yektayi, a 16-year-old 11th grader enrolled in the school’s AP Environmental Science class.
Twelve volunteers were from TREEmendous Miami. “CSX is the sponsor, and we provided the expertise and coordination.” said Steve Pearson, President of the local tree advocacy group. Amy Creekmur of TREEmendous explained that members of her organization studied Virginia Key prior to developing the MAST site plan. “We got native species and endangered species because the county is trying to reintroduce them on Virgina Key.”
CSX bought the plants from four nurseries in the Redland area of SW Miami-Dade county- Albert Livingston Tree Farms, Silent Native Nursery, Native Tree Nursery and Veber’s Jungle Gardens Nursery. The mulch was locally sourced as well from the non-native Australian pines the County is removing from beaches along Virginia Key. Ms. Creekmur adds, “[W]e saw them working on the beach and asked ‘can we have that?’ They were kind enough to transport the mulch here for us.”
The largest contingent on site was the 43 employees from CSX Transportation, the third-largest rail company in the U.S., who traveled from Jacksonville, Georgia and Virginia. Bob O’Malley, Florida-based CSX Vice President for State, Government and Community Affairs, explained the company has 2,800 miles of track in Florida and 21,000 miles across the country, and sponsors 10-15 volunteer events per year. “We pass through a lot of communities. Our employees like the volunteering”, he said, adding, “maybe not on days like this!”
“We like it. It’s something we can do together,” said CSX field operations train master Robert Holtz, 28, who drove with his wife, Whitney, eight hours from Fitzgerald, Georgia to participate.
CSX partnered with City Year for this tree-planting volunteer program called ‘Trees and Tracks. The goal is to plant a tree for every mile of the 21,000 miles of track the company operates. “We are very big on environmental sustainability and stewardship. Rail is the most environmentally friendly form of transporting freight,” continued O’Malley. “One train can move the equivalent of 280 trucks of freight. We can move one ton of freight for 436 miles on one gallon of fuel.”
City Year, a non-governmental organization, was founded in 1988 in Boston as a year-long volunteer corps for 17-24 year olds. Care Force is a division of City Year that works with corporate partners on larger-scale service projects. According to Hew McDonald, Project Manager for the CSX partnership, “City Year volunteers work in schools with teachers on literary enhancement and dropout prevention programs in 19 states.” Christopher Farr, Care Force Senior Project Manager who coordinates corporate programs added that the MAST event had special significance since. “City Year has a local presence in nine Miami-Dade County elementary, middle and high schools.” Saturday’s planting event was the first of five nationwide planned with CSX in 2010.
Related Resources:
Key Biscayne Times- TREEmendous reforestation day at MAST Academy
CSX ‘Trees for Tracks’ Joins Forces With Students From Nationally Acclaimed High School Science Magnet to Restore Native South Florida Habitat