Story and photos by Lione Clare.
It's mid April and both snowing and raining - the complete opposite of the previous day’s sunny skies. Nonetheless, ten 4H-ers ages 5 and up from the Sitka Spruce Tips 4H club and several volunteers, along with the property owners, are squelching around in muddy gravel planting relocated sitka spruce and western hemlock trees, and some yellow cedar tree starts. This is a reforestation project spearheaded by sailor, fine woodworker, and Tongass steward Frances Brann. The project is happening on a cleared building lot adjacent to her property that she purchased in order to restore after feeling disheartened by the way it was being developed. She wanted to involve the 4H youth to provide an opportunity for them to learn about planting trees and stewardship.
The 4H-ers are working hard, shoveling holes and carrying buckets of mulch with mud smeared all over their snow and rain gear and even on some cheeks and noses. There’s no complaining, and one can tell the kids are having a blast regardless of the weather. One young boy even exclaims, “I could do this forever!”
Frances thoughtfully directs the various teams working together to dig slightly deeper holes or make sure the trees are standing upright. But, she says, “It’s not really about how the trees are planted, it's more about teaching the kids about planting trees.”
After all the 60-70 trees are planted, we grab a quick group photo by a lovely handmade sign reading ‘4H Grove 2021’ that Frances carved. Before parents show up, the 4H-ers get sprayed down with a garden hose to avoid getting their family’s vehicles too muddy.
We would like to extend our wild gratitude to Mike Mayo, Andrew Thoms, and Frances Brann for their stewardship of the natural environment of Southeast Alaska and passing on those values to future generations. Both Mike and Andrew have been nursing young yellow cedar saplings here in Sitka, and along with Frances, love to share these trees with friends and neighbors, and hope that yellow cedar will continue to thrive across the Tongass for many generations to come.
About our 4-H Alaska Way of Life program:
The Sitka Conservation Society has the goal of connecting youth to the natural environment of the Tongass through hands-on experiential education and leadership opportunities. The 4-H Alaska Way of Life program is our primary tool for achieving that goal. Our program focuses on teaching youth how to live with the land and sea, the Alaskan way. The learning-teaching model facilitates leadership development as youth learn skills from elders then pass on those skills to their 4-H peers and their families back home. Sitka's 4-H is made possible by SCS with the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service.