Union Park

(Des Moines, IA) Trees Forever’s NeighborWoods-supported Union Park project is a plan to plant 357 new trees to reforest the park and its surrounding Des Moines neighborhoods. The location was chosen in collaboration with the mayor, city arborist, and neighborhood association, and meets the goals outlined in the city’s Park Reforestation Plan.

Category: Community Development and Organizational Management
Compared to national average, Union Park’s median household income of $17,000 was three times poorer, the median home value of $49,000 was more than three times lower, and home ownership of 12% was more than five times less. Only 70% have a high school degree, and the number of residents with a four-year degree is 30% lower than the national average. Based on Environmental Protection Agency data, the county ranked among the dirtiest 20% of all counties in the U.S. for air toxins, and the dirtiest 10% for emissions. Residents here have a higher cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants. The violent crime risk index is more than twice the national average, and 1 in 19 people will be a crime victim. Union Park, where the population density is twice the average of Metro Des Moines, needed help.
Trees Forever’s vision was a sustainable partnership of healthier urban spaces, stronger community engagement, empowered neighborhoods, and stewardship.
Since its inception in 1989, Trees Forever has demonstrated a strong commitment to involving volunteers of all ages in every project. They believe that people learn best through hands-on experiences. Trees Forever volunteers are involved in short and long-term planning, site assessments, landscape design, species selection, tree purchasing, recruiting of volunteers, and the actual planting and care. Annually they involve about 10,000 people, and maintain a database of over 14,000 volunteers and donors. Their projects revolve around volunteer committees that have ownership in all aspects of their projects. In order to cover all of Iowa and parts of Illinois, Trees Forever maintains a ten person field staff located across the states.
Based upon their experience with hundreds of Iowa communities and neighborhoods, Trees Forever knows how to green neighborhoods through tree plantings. It is an ideal way to grow community engagement, strengthen the social fabric of neighborhoods, and give neighbors a renewed sense of hope for the future. Greening projects provide visible, tangible, and positive results while bringing residents together for the good of the neighborhood. Trees Forever uses a number of facilitative techniques for visioning that not only engage people in their community and build knowledge of the community forest and natural environment, but also demonstrate ways a neighborhood can work together around greening projects.
Trees Forever’s experience leading similar plantings and programs in hundreds of Iowa communities and neighborhoods is their main asset. Trees Forever uses a number of facilitative techniques to not only engage people in their community, but also build knowledge of working forests and natural areas. Neighborhoods learn to work together to plan, repair parks, and conserve resources. Of course, their success is dependent on vital partnerships.
While the City of Des Moines is responsible for follow-up care and maintenance, Trees Forever has a vital interest in ensuring the success of the newly planted trees. So they organized neighborhood volunteer groups to assist with care.
The lead partner in most projects is typically the neighborhood association. In this project, the Des Moines N.E. Neighbors Association assistde with organizing planning meetings, volunteer recruitment, and planting trees. To ensure sustained efforts, the neighborhood association even formed a “greening group” to monitor and care for the trees.
The City of Des Moines provided technical expertise on parks reforestation, helped with site preparation, selected trees, and aided the neighborhood association with care and maintenance. The City Fire Department helped to water trees. Through the entire project, Trees Forever maintained close contact with City Forester Skip Moore, Mayor Frank Cownie, and Fire Chief Phillip Vorlander.
The Southeast Des Moines Home Depot (store# 2104) also committed to provide volunteers. Trees Forever has been working with The Home Depot for years. Most recently on urban watershed project, The Home Depot provided meeting space, volunteers, and funding for plantings. Over 100 volunteers participated in a one-day cleanup event at the project site in April 2004.
Through NeighborWoods, Trees Forever was able to build awareness of the need to create green, vital parks and neighborhoods. The program served as a kick-off for the first of many neighborhood plantings in Cedar Rapids and other Iowa communities. Fundraising and partnership efforts began before the Union Park project was even completed.
* Created a green, vital park and neighborhood
* Planted 810 new trees in Union Park and the surrounding neighborhoods
* Engaged 193 volunteers for 499 contributed service hours
Lessons Learned
1. Build a sustainable, active volunteer “greening” group.
2. Ensure success of a model NeighborWoods program that can be replicated in other communities.
3. Educate neighbors, residents, and the greater community on importance of their community forest.
Contact Information:
Shannon Ramsay
Founding President & CEO
Trees Forever
770 7th Avenue
Marion, IA 52302
Phone: 319-373-0650
Fax: 319-373-0528