August 2, 2008

Tragic Tree Trimmings

By Mark Fischenich, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Aug. 2--Approximately 200 trees planted by school children this spring as part of a community -- wide effort to attack global warming were felled this summer by a power mower driven by a North Mankato parks worker.

" The trees were accidentally mowed over by a seasonal employee," said North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande. "It was just failure to communicate."

The foot-tall cottonwood and maple saplings were planted on a hillside in Spring Lake Park by school children and their parents, mainly from North Mankato's Hoover Elementary School. The plan was that city workers would no longer need to mow the steep incline near Lake Street, reducing labor, fuel usage and pollution.

Instead, sometime in June a parks worker mowed the hillside, not realizing the tiny saplings -- surrounded by small circles of mulch and

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TREES: Children may plant new saplings

TREES: Children may plant new saplings

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tied with colored yarn for identification -- were meant to be preserved.

Malda Farnham of Mankato, one of the organizers of the Million Tree Project that kicked off with more than 13,000 trees planted on that April weekend, was in North Mankato in June and decided to check how the children's trees were faring.

" I couldn't believe what had happened," said Farnham, who went to city hall to confront Sande.

Sande wasn't in, but an aide was as shocked and disappointed as Farnham. The city has since pledged to replace the trees and plans to write letters of explanation and apology to the school kids.

The planting will probably happen when the weather cools in the fall. At that point, the Hoover kids will be back in school and will be invited to plant the new batch of saplings " if they wish," Sande said. If the students aren't in a forgiving mood, city workers will dothe planting.

Councilwoman Diane Norland, who heads the city's parks committee and is a supporter of the Million Tree Project, said measures have been put in place to make sure the new trees have a longer life than the previous ones.

"It was pretty frustrating, but we've talked it out with city staff and figured out some stronger communication channels between the park committee, city staff and the (Million Tree) project."

Farnham made sure to point out that Sande and North Mankato were very helpful during the mass planting in April, offering mulch, water, spades and more. And after what happened in June, she suspects the new trees might end up being the best- cared- for saplings in the community.

As for the unidentified parks worker on the mower, Farnham remains disappointed but the anger has subsided.

"As we say in gardening," she said, "? Compost happens.'"


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