A tree grows in Golden Valley

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2012 - 10:16 AM

When a tornado devastated a park, residents took matters into their own hands.

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Golden Valley resident Rob Wheaton photographed his son, Grier, near a tree uprooted by a tornado in May 2011.

As election signs sprout like weeds on lawns in the west metro, signs of a different sort are proliferating in yards around North Tyrol Park in Golden Valley.

They show a logo of a tree in the center and the phrase, "We Gave! We're Regrowing Our Park!"

The neighborhood's "Trees for Tyrol" campaign aimed at raising funds from residents to buy large trees to hasten the park's recovery from a May 22, 2011, tornado. The same twister that swept through north Minneapolis pounced on the park, knocking down many 80- to 100-foot-tall trees that shaded the park. All but two of the mature trees were lost.

Last year, the city used a grant, city funds and insurance money to replace the damaged playground and plant prairie plants and some young trees. More young trees will be planted this fall.

But one resident who grew up near the park and is raising his own family there wanted more. He talked with neighbors about his memories of the verdant park and said he wanted his own kids to experience that, too.

"He said, 'This is so hurting. Let's bring in some big mature trees so our kids can have some shade before they're too big to enjoy it," said resident Rob Wheaton, who is working on the tree campaign.

Residents worked with the city to set up a fund that could accept private donations for the Trees for Tyrol project. The City Council approved the effort. The idea for the project was reinforced this summer when neighbors gathered in the park for their annual July 4 picnic, huddling under one of the remaining trees in the 101-degree heat. Someone later compared it to sitting on a hot cookie sheet.

"This is a longstanding, stable neighborhood, and those trees were around forever in what is a neighborhood gathering spot," Wheaton said. "The park's 'presence' was really lost."

Residents set a goal of raising $15,000 from the roughly 300 homes in the area to buy 12 to 15 large trees for the park. Wheaton created a brochure to explain the project and hand-delivered it door-to-door. A neighbor who is a graphic designer created the yard sign that is given to donors.

The campaign began the first week of August. People began sending donations to the city, with amounts from $10 to $1,000. Ninety-year-olds gave; young people gave, Breck School and the mayor gave. A banner that tracked donations was hung in the park on National Night Out.

About half the households in the area have donated, perhaps spurred on by Trees for Tyrol signs in neighbor's yards. The city lets Wheaton and others working on the campaign know when someone donates, and their routine is to send their kids up to donors' doors to ask if they can put a sign in their front yard.

"It seems like the right spirit, and the right message," Wheaton said. "People wrote and said they really liked the feel of this. It was heartfelt to come together as a group and do this thing."

By the end of September, $25,000 had been raised.

Wheaton is talking to contractors and nurseries about the planting that will occur next spring. The city forester has been advising the residents, and he will go with them next year to handpick the new trees, which will be big enough to be planted with tree spades. Wheaton said the city has committed to watering the new trees during their crucial early years.

Now residents are talking with the city about how to handle any excess funds in the tree fund. Wheaten said donations are still trickling in. He is thrilled with the neighborhood response but said he is not surprised.

"People care about each other here," he said. "We want everybody to be able to go down there and say, 'This is my park.'"

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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