Ramped-Up Reforestation

The annual Climate Change Coalition Big Plant effort puts 13,900 new native trees in the ground 

The Big Plant had a record-setting year in terms of the number of highly visible community tree plantings completed.

In short, the countywide effort took great strides toward reforesting several public plots as well as lawns, business properties and natural areas, said Jeff Lutsey, executive director of the Climate Change Coalition (CCC) of Door County.

“The numbers that we at Climate Change Coalition did this year were 11,550, and that includes the group buy as well as the ones we just donate for the cause for community planting. So that’s a good, big number for us,” said Lutsey, noting that efforts by additional “motivated partners and friends” resulted in more than 13,900 new, native trees being planted. 

This month, the CCC distributed thank-you messages to more than 80 groups such as clubs, municipalities, communities, neighborhood and friends groups, schools, churches and families. In all, that included 60 private landowners.

Just a few of the groups that bought trees from the CCC to give away to the public include Door County Land Trust, The Ridges Sanctuary, several Lions Clubs, 10 businesses and various nonprofit groups such as the Birch Creek Music Performance Center and Write On, Door County. The Land Trust reported giving away 1,000 trees, plus more than 800 native grasses and perennial plants that benefit pollinators.

Other entities that purchased their own plants and participated in plantings included The Nature Conservancy, Crossroads at Big Creek and the Forest Recovery Project.

Big Plant 2023 stood out from others because the number of major “community” tree-planting events that took place increased from one in previous years to eight this year, Lutsey said. Those included two days of planting on land near County NP at the Mink River Estuary, 320 trees added to a portion of the former Bay Ridge Golf Course property, the planting of 720 trees near the County NP entrance to Newport State Park, a three-hour event on the Horseshoe Bay Farms property, an afternoon at Crossroads at Big Creek, and a planting of white pine, red pine, white spruce and balsam fir in the small but very visible County of Door park called Plum Bottom Wayside that sits on the world’s 45th Parallel along Highway 42 between Carlsville and Egg Harbor.

“The biggest reason we’ve been doing better [with the Big Plant] is we’ve been talking with all of our friends a lot more,” Lutsey said. “There are so many different great environmental groups up here, stewardship groups.” 

In particular, he was glad to see that those community sites included a nonprofit group, a local natural area, a county park and a state park. 

Lutsey – who is working separately to plant a diverse variety of trees and convert poor farmland into prairie on his own property – said he’s glad to see more woodlands planted with trees that contribute to better air quality and that can tolerate Door County conditions.

He said the CCC planted white pines more than any other type of tree. In addition, he, The Nature Conservancy and Bob Bultman’s private Forest Recovery Project have obtained a handful of bare-root deciduous trees such as birches, maples and black cherry.

“Those are things we’re trying out as research to see what might grow better because we might plant more of those,” Lutsey said.

The CCC planted or gave away almost all of its trees for 2023 between the time the tree planting began around Earth Day and late May, but the group held back one final tray of trees for a planting activity with preschool children at Northern Door Children’s Center.

The Door County Big Plant continues to gain momentum in uniting, strengthening and streamlining tree-planting efforts countywide by building on work that many ecology-focused groups had organized on their own for many years, said Natalie Dorrler-Hyde, director of partnerships and programs for the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership. 

The Big Plant has made not only a great reforestation impact, but it has also influenced many nonprofit and volunteer groups and schoolchildren by giving them a sense of pride about and connection to sites where they have planted trees, Dorrler-Hyde said. For example, the Gibraltar schools’ Ecology Club and the Newport Wilderness Society both have a strong connection to the newly planted site at Newport State Park, and the Newport friends group in particular has taken ownership of watering and caring for the new trees.

Dry Conditions Required a Different Big Plant Effort

That watering has been needed. When the plantings took place in April, no one foresaw May becoming one of the driest ever, with the first three weeks of June bringing about “droughty” conditions, Lutsey said. That means that volunteers, park and site employees, and organization members have spent extra time watering trees throughout the planting sites.

“When it’s like this, you’ve got to water,” Lutsey said. “We’ve been running out to all of these sites with buckets, with hoses, depending on what’s easiest. Every site so far has required supplemental water that we never do in May.”

Generally, these groups want Mother Nature to deliver an inch of spring rain per week. She hasn’t accommodated that requirement. To compensate, efforts have been made to water the saplings and seedlings each week. 

Still, dry weather through June – the peninsula finally saw some rain June 25 and 26 – put many of the new trees under stress. Lutsey said that people who have planted new trees might need to keep watering each week until the end of July during weeks when there’s no rain.