Vassar students plant 1,000 trees

John Ferro
Poughkeepsie Journal
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Preserve spruced up for Day of Service

Carrie Perkins had an idea.

As part of an independent research project, Perkins, a senior biology major at Vassar College, decided it would be a good idea to plant … a forest.

That idea evolved into a three-day effort that continues today and Friday at Vassar College’s 415-acre farm and ecological preserve in Poughkeepsie.

Volunteers from the college and the Student Conservation Association will plant 1,000 trees supplied by the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Trees for Tribs program. The effort marks the largest single planting ever supported by the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program, according to DEC officials.

“I can’t believe it,” said Perkins, a 21-year-old from Chatham, N.J. “It’s a little bit overwhelming, but very exciting.”

The volunteers are also clearing invasive species and repairing public trails in the preserve, an effort inspired by 2012 Vassar graduate Sara Gabrielson, an environmental studies major.

The preserve is open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

Among the volunteers Wednesday was Elizabeth Putnam, a 1955 Vassar graduate and founder of the Student Conservation Association, a nonprofit environmental services organization with chapters around the country. In 2010, Putnam received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award.

“This,” Putnam said, “is what life is all about. If more colleges, more high schools and more people in their communities work together to help better their community, everybody benefits.”

That the effort was taking place on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — now also known as a National Day of Service and Remembrance — was especially poignant for Putnam.

“It makes me just weep,” she said. “What more perfect day … to be doing this? It just makes my heart overflow.”

The trees will serve two functions. They will provide buffers for two tributaries of the Casperkill creek. And they will help absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Trees for Tribs program seeks to plant native species along stream banks to protect them against stormwater, reduce erosion and slow runoff that can overwhelm sewers and dump raw sewage into waterways. “Tribs” is short for tributaries.

Beth Roessler, the DEC Estuary Program’s stream buffer coordinator, said she began her career at the agency as an Student Conservation Association intern. Roessler said 54 different tree species will be planted, including oak, red maple, dogwood, sycamore and sugar maple.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “It was every species we had and more.”

The young trees will be protected from deer by a wire fence encircling the plot of land.