By The Staff of Trees Atlanta
As 2016 comes to a close, Trees Atlanta’s staff is busy planning for the next several years. We yearn to do more and be more effective in all that we do: creating new and improved programming, planting more trees, educating more people, and restoring more woodlands. As we look to the future, we are taking the advice a speaker recently gave to individuals and organizations alike, focusing not only on yearly accomplishments, but what we have built over the last decade.
Over the past ten years Trees Atlanta has built a new home, the Trees Atlanta Kendeda Center – our headquarters in Atlanta’s vibrant Reynoldstown neighborhood. We made it through the worst recession since the Great Depression intact, remaining financially strong while expanding our mission and scope. Our staff has grown and matured along with the organization and has a renewed focus on strategy, analysis, and research, without losing their passion and heart. We have successfully transitioned from our superb founding Executive Director, Marcia Bansley, to dual leadership by Co-Executive Directors.
The Atlanta Beltline has captured the attention and imagination of not only our city, but the entire country. We have enhanced the Atlanta BeltLine experience by building a conceptual goal of the world’s longest linear arboretum along the BeltLine and making it a reality, installing over four miles of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum and attaining Level 2 accreditation for the project. Our team has planted almost two thousand trees along the trail, established ten acres of meadows, developed multiple environmental demonstration areas, and created educational signage so that those using the BeltLine can learn about the native trees and grasses planted along it. We have a group of trained volunteer docents to teach visitors about the arboretum and have provided an improved wildlife and pollinator corridor for our city.
Our new education center, the Trees Atlanta TreeHouse, opened in 2015. Located along the BeltLine in Inman Park, the TreeHouse is home to hard-working educators teaching our friends and neighbors of all ages about innovative ways to plan, plant, and protect our forest. We have completed eight years of our TreeKeepers program, training almost 200 advocates to assist their community in all things involving trees. The Urban Tree Tracker youth education program focuses on visits to classrooms in over forty schools across Atlanta. We’ve had three years of summer camp where over 273 kids have spent a week focused on environmental education while biking along the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. This past year we started the Youth Tree Team, employing twelve high schoolers from different backgrounds to work in the arboretum.
Our NeighborWoods volunteer tree planting program has almost doubled in size from ten years ago, now planting over 3,600 trees a year with volunteers. We have gone from restoring three urban forests a year to working in over twenty forests across the city, not only removing invasive plant species, but creating management and engagement plans for the long term care of these greenspaces. We have more than tripled our annual volunteer hours, and have one staff person whose primary focus is to engage the community in the protection of Atlanta’s most important natural resource – our trees!
Trees Atlanta is constantly working on ways to engage in effective partnerships with the diverse and strong community of Atlanta nonprofits. 2016 saw the creation of the Atlanta Canopy Alliance (members include The Conservation Fund, Georgia Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and Park Pride, as well as us), through which we helped create a funding source for purchasing forested land in Atlanta, working closely with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the City’s Department of Planning and Community Development, and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The next decade is critical for the city of Atlanta. We look forward to working with communities and partners across the metro area to ensure that the city that we build is green and forested. We envision working on an expanding preserved forest that stretches across the city, building a center of innovation that focuses on environmental education and urban ecology, helping to create ordinances and legislation that preserve our forest as Atlanta grows, and maybe even increasing our urban forest cover from its current 48% to 50% and beyond. It’s an ambitious resolution for the next ten years, but judging by what we have accomplished over the past ten years, we believe that anything is possible. Happy New Year from the Staff at Trees Atlanta!