Here’s what our Leamington planting event taught me

The following blog post about our Leamington planting event was written by our Sustainable Development Coordinator, Emelia. Stay tuned for a recap of our London planting event, coming soon!

Smiling volunteers at our Leamington planting event 😊

Why tree planting?

I have a confession to make- I don’t know much about trees. As strange as this may sound, I am a little embarrassed by this fact! After all, I studied Environmental Science, I once worked for a forestry company, AND my dad is somewhat of a tree expert. Not only that, but I was born and raised in rural northern Ontario. This meant that I was utterly surrounded by trees for most of my life! Still, for whatever reason, trees are NOT my wheelhouse. What can I say, I’m a water girl through and through. 

Check out the Lake Erie Guardians’ water quality observations!

The Lake Erie Guardians have collectively uploaded almost 400 observations to our data platform this year. Check ’em out here!

So picture my face when earlier this year, I realized I’d have to help coordinate a tree planting even for more than 50 volunteers. Why you ask? Well, as part of our Lake Erie Guardians program, our volunteers were going to be in charge of planting hundreds of trees this fall. Since I was taking the lead on the program, I was going to have to help coordinate planting, too. Ever have nightmares about not living up to your full tree planting potential? Strangely, I can now say I have. 

Our goals were lofty: altogether, we aimed to plant more than 500 trees, shrubs, and plants in the Lake Erie Watershed. This was going to require some serious coordination and knowhow. Cue the best Director and partner organizations ever! 

The real MVPs (most valuable planters)

First, there was Raj from Freshwater Alliance. Freshwater Alliance is our partner in the Lake Erie Guardians program, which meant Raj and I got to work together a lot throughout the program. Raj has tons of connections in Western Ontario, and she knew exactly who to contact for all of our tree planting needs.  

Then, there was Gabi, our Director here at Water Rangers. Gabi has a ton of great connections in Western Ontario too, not to mention a “can-do” attitude about just about everything. 

Together, Raj, Gabi and I got to work. We decided it would make sense to have more than one planting event so more people could participate. Ultimately, we decided on Leamington and London. 

Trees!

First up: Leamington

For our Leamington planting event, we partnered with the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA). Gina, the Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator at ERCA, was our main point of contact for the event. She was committed to ensuring the event was a success from the very beginning! Before heading out to the field, anyone who signed up for the event had to attend a virtual training session with Gina. As part of this training session, Gina taught volunteers about a) Ontario’s Conservation Authorities and what they do, b) wetlands and why they’re important, and c) the general state of water in the area. 

Gina from the ERCA

As Gina explained, wetlands support biodiversity in countless ways. Not only that, but they filter water and contaminants from water before the water makes its way to bigger waterbodies like Lake Erie. Wetlands also act as a buffer against flooding, drought, and a changing climate, protecting humans and other living creatures by extension.

Gina also explained that unfortunately, about 97% of wetlands have been lost in the Windsor-Essex Region. This results in degraded ecosystems, poor water quality, and so much more. In fact, the Windsor-Essex region’s remaining natural heritage constitutes one of the lowest percentages of natural heritage in all of Ontario. Obviously, these statistics aren’t good, but that’s exactly why we incorporated tree planting into the Lake Erie Guardians program in the first place. 

With the ERCA’s help, our Lake Erie Guardians were tasked with planting trees at the Solcz Family Foundation Forest, a 32 acre restoration site located in south east Leamington. The event took place in early October with Raj, Gabi, Gina, and the volunteers in attendance. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, but I was lucky enough to get updates almost in real-time!

A rough map of the tree planting site

So how did it go?

All in all, the event was a huge success! Not only were we joined by several of our Lake Erie Guardians, but volunteers from Niagara Coastal Community Collaborative, the Gordon Foundation, and the community at large came out to help, too. 

Some of our volunteers from the Leamington planting event

Together, almost 20 volunteers attended and planted close to 200 trees, shrubs, and plants during the two hour planting event. Among these were 15 native species including Blue Flag Iris, Swamp Milkweed, Silky Dogwood, and more. Not only did the volunteers make a huge contribution to wetland restoration that day, but they also had fun doing it! This event proved to be yet another example of how nature brings people together. We couldn’t be more proud of everyone who came out and contributed. 

Personally, I also can’t express my gratitude enough to everyone who worked together to make this event such a success. Like I said, I’m not a tree gal… but through this event, I learned that’s okay! Luckily, there are experts like Gina out there who can help lead the way when others (like myself) aren’t so sure what to do. None of us has to reach “expert” status in order to make a difference, we just have to be willing to get our hands dirty– sometimes literally!

A volunteer hard at work

Next up is London!

Our London planting event took place a couple weeks after our Leamington planting event. Stay tuned for a recap on how that went, coming soon.

The Leamington planting event was sponsored by the Government of Ontario

This event and the 2021 Lake Erie Guardians program wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the Government of Ontario’s Great Lakes Local Action Fund.