A group of South Portland Land Trust members, citizens, students and their parents volunteered on May 22 for the South Portland Land Trust, planting trees along Clark’s Pond Trail. Catherine Bart photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — A group of South Portland students showed their dedication to community improvement during a volunteer tree-planting event on May 22.

In an event organized by the South Portland Land Trust, a group of volunteers, including three elementary school students and a South Portland High School senior, took to Clark’s Pond Trail, planting trees that will serve as a buffer for the trail.

Skyler Morse, a senior planning to attend the University of Maine next fall, said he had been working on a project to complete his Eagle Scout certification, planting over 250 seedlings along the trail area.

The seedlings come from the South Portland Land Trust, which received 2,000 northern white cedars earlier this year, said Richard Rottkov, land trust president.

Skyler Morse, a South Portland High School senior, has been planting seedlings along the Clark’s Pond Trail in South Portland. These seedlings will one day serve as a buffer between the trail and adjacent apartment buildings. Morse said he is doing the project as part of the Eagle Scout process. Catherine Bart photo

“Part of the Eagle Scout process is to give back,” he said. “I feel like it shows the work that goes into the Eagle Scout award.”

Home Depot, located at 300 Clarks Pond Parkway, donated two apple trees and a number of shrubs to the project, Morse said. He and other land trust volunteers spent the morning cutting down knotweed, an invasive species growing around Clark’s Pond Trail, and planting more seedlings.

In addition to Morse’s project, three fifth-grade students, Miles Stewart from Kaler Elementary School, Laura Giles from Dyer Elementary School and Josie Vazquez, from Brown Elementary School had received a $1,000 grant that allows the group to plant fruit trees in South Portland, Vazquez said.

“Trees support life on this planet and we have to protect them,” Stewart said.

South Portland fifth grade students preparing to plant fruit trees along Clark’s Pond Trail on May 22. The students received a grant of $1,000 for the project. From Left to right: Laura Giles, Josie Vazquez, Miles Stewart.  Catherine Bart photo

Andrew Fersch, the district’s fifth-grade distance teacher and long-term substitute, said when he started the position in January, he noticed that fully remote students were feeling dull after almost a full year of online school.

“So I decided we would have elective classes students would opt into, choose their own topic, and I would be their assistant,” he said. “A couple of weeks in I started to think that for students who were doing a great job on that and wanted more of challenge, I would start offering some classes. So I offered one about the science of trees.”

The group worked on a grant proposal to the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, with Laura being the main student-writer, Fersch said.

“(The New England Grassroots Environment Fund) supports young people’s work all the time,” he said. “They had sent me an email saying they were still looking for applications, and I brought it to the students and they were jazzed on the idea of writing a grant and then we got the grant, which paid for those fruit trees.”

During the volunteer event, the students were able to help plant six fruit trees, he said.

“I was impressed by the children’s and their parents’ willingness to come out and help, and for them to come out on a hot, muggy day to work for two hours,” Fersch said. “That’s not something we often ask of children that age, but in general, from my experience, they love it. They love physically working. They like doing something that feels like it’s meaningful.”

Miles Stewart, a fifth grade tree-planting volunteer, on May 22. Catherine Bart photo

 

In addition to the tree-planting, the students have been meeting weekly to work on an opening presentation for a South Portland City Council workshop that took place on May 25, Laura said.

The students researched and worked on a video to play before a city council workshop about a tree ordinance that is in discussion, Fersch said.

“We started just by learning about trees because there’s a tree protection ordinance being proposed in South Portland,” he said. “Because I knew about that, I brought it to them and said, ‘How would you be interested in being involved in this?’ So we chatted with Sue Henderson, city councilor, and she talked about how it would be great to have an introduction to the tree protection ordinance.”

Projects that get students involved in their community teach them that the work they do matters, Fersch said.

“I just don’t see a lot of young people getting involved in a lot of environmental issues or in city government, and I think it’s a shame because many of them have very strong opinions,” he said. “I would hope the students see that they have a voice already, and if they’re willing to put in the effort, then their voices will be taken seriously. This is as much their city as anyone else’s.”

Fersch said he believes all students should be involved in a program that makes a positive impact on the community.

“It is heartening and inspiring to see a group of young people working so hard to improve the city they live in, for each other, and for the natural world,” Fersch said. “My hope is that people will see the work they’re doing and realize that we all should be doing our part to make our community and our world a better place.”

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