Tree planting draws people from all walks

With seedlings no bigger than school rulers, students from Ben Franklin Science Academy helped prepare an industrial park for potential clients on Saturday.

About a half-dozen members of BFSA’s 4-H Club trudged through the mud and across plowed fields Saturday to help plant thousands of seedlings around Southside Industrial Park, 53rd Street and U.S. 64. The club worked with A More Beautiful Muskogee, Inc., Greater Muskogee Development Corp., the Port of Muskogee and the City of Muskogee to plant the seedlings, which will grow into natural buffers along the industrial park’s west, south and east borders.

“We’re going to plant them in the ground, and this summer they’re going to have leaves,” BFSA sixth-grader Taja Beasley said, holding a scrawny twig with wispy hair-like roots.
“And in five or six years, they’re going to have buds and be 6 feet tall,” said Autumn Nichols, a fifth-grader.

Muskogee Development is working with the port to create the buffer. Executive Director Leisha Haworth said they ordered more than 15,000 seedlings of various types — including loblolly pine, shumard oak, persimmon, sand plum and eastern redbud — from the Oklahoma Forestry Division. The City of Muskogee paid for the seedlings. In addition to the 160-acre Southside Industrial Park, where the students planted, Muskogee Development also is planting buffers at John T. Griffin Industrial Park on Dal-Tile Road.

Workers with the Port of Muskogee helped plant 5,000 seedlings on Friday. Workers with the City of Muskogee Public Works Department mowed about 30 acres before the tree planting.

“This is a project that has involved the whole community,” Haworth said. Other participants include the Cherokee Nation, Love Bottling, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

BFSA recently received a $5,000 Project Learning Tree “Greenworks” grant to help them learn about the environment and develop community awareness.

“A lot of kids do not have the opportunity to do hands-on projects like this,” said 4-H Club sponsor Valerie Ragsdale. “We’re doing so many projects within the club. So far this morning, we’ve identified trees. I picked up a branch that had fungus on it and they identified it. They’re really excited.”

A motorized tree planter from the Cherokee Nation planted seedlings about 8 to 10 feet apart. The kids followed the machine and patted each seedling into place.

“It was pretty easy,” said student Drew Ragsdale. “All you had to do is tamp the dirt down.”
Port Director Scott Robinson said, “It is wonderful the kids are working with us.”

“They are taking responsibility for a more beautiful Muskogee,” he said.

Haworth said she was amazed the kids were willing to work on a chilly day during spring break.

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