In late 2006, volunteers along Elysian Fields Avenue plant the first of 10,000 trees, a post-Katrina effort that culminates with a Bywater planting this week. Photo courtesy of Parkway Partners

In December 2006, it was another dreary day for a crestfallen city shrouded in fog, but the honking of horns, the whoops from drivers, the volunteers jumping from their cars in business suits all gave energy to a tree-planting effort along Elysian Fields Avenue. For many, it was the first solid sign of recovery, a moment of open elation, and it was the first significant tree-planting effort of the non-profit Parkway Partners following Katrina. The planting of Elysian Fields from the river to the lake was the launch of an initiative called ReLeaf New Orleans, a partnership that includes the city’s Department of Parks and Parkways along with businesses and neighborhoods.

On Thursday, with the planting of 50 trees in the Bywater area, Parkway Partners, celebrates installation of the 10,000th tree since the hurricane. The milestone event includes a streetscape planting at 1 p.m. in the 1000 block of Desire Street, between St. Claude Avenue and Rampart Street.

New Orleans lost a significant portion of its canopy to the winds of Katrina and the flood that followed levee failures. Before the storm, New Orleans had one of the lushest tree canopies in the nation, according to the American Forests Foundation. Today, through the ReLeaf New Orleans initiative, Parkway Partners and its volunteers, along with the department, are restoring it.

The Bywater planting demonstrates that a tree-lined street helps create a valuable neighborhood.  Trees are one of the strongest indicators that there is indeed a future and that the neighborhood cares. Such efforts can increase property values by 20 percent. However, that is only the beginning rationale for planting trees. Trees are essential to health as they filter particulate pollution from the air and release the oxygen we need to live. They also reduce the “heat island” effect of concrete and reduce heating and cooling costs. Trees are the only element of a city’s infrastructure that increases in value over time, and they help reduce storm water runoff.

Although the Bywater trees are being planted along the curb, many of Parkway Partners’ trees were planted on neutral grounds. Planting trees along significant corridors like Elysian Fields Avenue provides entranceway to multiple neighborhoods, which aids the city’s recovery.  The corridors are planted by arborists because of the larger size trees, but volunteers from the neighborhood support the effort, and this in turn encourages the planting and maintenance of trees throughout the neighborhood. Parkway Partners also provides free and low-cost trees for neighborhood associations, home landscapes and schools.

Major corridors planted in partnership with significant funders and the Department of Parks and Parkways include Elysian Fields Avenue, Broad Street, Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Paris Avenue. Thousands of trees were introduced along streets in neighborhoods including Gentilly, the Irish Channel, eastern New Orleans, the 9th ward, Treme, Lakeview, Central City and more.

The ReLeaf New Orleans initiative has multiple elements, but education is probably the most important component. A total of 140 trained “Tree Troopers” participated in a 12-hour training course delivered by Parkway Partners and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Trained Tree Troopers act as experts in their neighborhoods, supporting the welfare of the trees, supervising tree planting events as well as supporting the maintenance of mature and newly planted trees.

All of the trees introduced by Parkway Partners were planted through volunteer effort, and the planting in Bywater is an outstanding example of the “village” required to plant a tree. These were the hardest to plant, requiring concrete cut-outs, concrete removal, digging a hole with shovels through layers of strata in tight spaces, and avoiding gas and water infrastructure.  Planting 50 sizable trees in Bywater was supported by the Bywater Neighborhood Association, Entergy, the Hornets and Cargill Cares.

A partnership between the community and the city for 29 years, Parkway Partners works to improve and expand green spaces in New Orleans. With no government funding, the organization and active members have helped support the Department of Parks and Parkways in restoration of the urban canopy while educating and empowering citizens to act. Other valuable, ongoing campaigns include Adopt-A-Neutral Ground, Save Our Trees, Community and Schoolyard Gardens, and the Second Saturday Program. Parkway Partners proudly achieved certification in 2008 from the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the first “green” organization to receive this distinction. For more information, click here. All donations are tax-deductible.

Jean Fahr is executive director of Parkway Partners and a lifelong resident of New Orleans.