In its largest concentrated reforestation project ever, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will plant 3,000 trees on blocks left bare in north Minneapolis by the May 22 tornado.
For a part of the city that has seen its share of destruction, the planting represents another step toward recovery for residents and an opportunity for a more sustainable urban forest. People who live elsewhere in Minneapolis may notice fewer new street trees next year as the Park Board focuses its replanting program on the North Side.
Rudo Joplin gets reminders of the storm's toll whenever he looks at his front lawn, where the trunk from the toppled boulevard tree still lies. His once-lush street, the 3800 block of Dupont Avenue N., now features stumps and a few scraggly survivors.
"It would be nice for the other generations to see it like it used to be," Joplin said. "It's never going to be the same, though."
The tornado destroyed about 2,600 park and boulevard trees and twice as many trees on private property. Since last month, crews have been removing the tipped-up tree stumps. Next month, the first 250 trees will go into hard-hit Folwell Park as the kickoff to the reforestation effort.
Most of the planting will take place in the spring. Ralph Sievert, the Park Board's forestry director, said it will take from 15 to 25 years for the saplings to grow into the canopy that residents are used to.
Yet this forest will feature a greater variety of species to avoid a repeat of the devastating effects of Dutch elm disease and the emerald ash borer. Many of the trees lost in north Minneapolis were ash, said John Erwin, president of the park board. With the emerald ash borer creeping through the Twin Cities, it would have only been a matter of time before the pest reached those trees, he said.
The Park Board plants about 5,500 trees each year, and that number won't increase next year, Sievert said. Requests for replacement boulevard trees elsewhere in the city will still be granted, but the Park Board will reduce "discretionary" plantings. Instead, the majority will be planted on the North Side, costing about $300,000 from the Park Board's general fund, grants and donations. Another 1,000 trees will be made available for private properties through work with the city and other public, private and nonprofit groups.
A canopy of trees covers about 31.5 percent of the city, according to a study completed by University of Minnesota researchers this year, making Minneapolis shadier than Boston (29 percent) and New York (24 percent) but less leafy than Baltimore (49 percent) and Washington, D.C. (35 percent).
"In Minneapolis, a lot of the character of the neighborhoods is having tree-lined streets," said John Uban, chairman of the Minneapolis Tree Advisory Commission. "They are like the lungs of the city."
Trees can also lower the costs of air-conditioning and heating, prevent erosion, absorb stormwater and increase property values. Studies have also shown that green surroundings reduce crime, Uban said.
Once the trees go in the ground, the Park Board, with help from the nonprofit Tree Trust, will educate residents on how to care for them. Young trees need regular watering, Erwin said, and he acknowledged that it might be harder to persuade renters than homeowners to do so.
But Brianca Hardin, who lives near the intersection of Dowling and Colfax Avenues, predicted that residents, renters or not, would take care of their new forest.
"They still live here," she said.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495