Trees in the Ground!


Grayson Highlands School is positioned in a broad valley near Troutdale, Virginia. Opening this fall, this K-12 school consolidated Bridle Creek and Mount Rogers schools. In time, it will serve a larger student body, but during the transition, many kids in the neighborhood continue to attend school in Independence. Last winter, John Alexander, principal, several community members and Blue Ridge Discovery Center volunteers met to discuss broad ideas based upon outdoor classroom activities. The grounds on campus are essentially a blank slate, inspiring us to approach the possibilities with creativity and student owned ideas.

Earlier this fall, Clyde Kessler, BRDC Board Member, initiated a tree planting program at the new school by making a donation towards a tree or two. This donation grew as others heard about the program, with Carol Broderson and Blue Ridge Birders Club chipping in. After doing some research and consulting a variety of tree experts, including David Richert with Virginia’s Department of Forestry, we settled on a list of species that would do well on this windswept sandy spot.

Taking this list with me to Jones Nursery, Woodlawn, Va., on Tuesday, November 23rd, I met with Charlie Jones and Roger Hollinger, who helped me pick out and load up what $250.00 could buy. Charlie took an interest in our project, and not only helped me find the healthiest trees, but donated two large sugar maples to the cause. Charlie and Robert were incredibly helpful, including loading me up with stakes and pipe to help protect the trees from wind and deer.

The tree list is as follows:

I then headed west to the school, where Rebecca Absher, our point person and science teacher, met me, and with several older students we began to dig the holes and plant trees. There was not enough time left in the day to plant more than three, and with the Thanksgiving Holiday upon us, we were forced to wait until the following week to complete the planting. I left the school after securing a promise that all of the trees would be properly watered. Subsequent rains through the weekend further insured that the trees would be fine.

Realizing the magnitude of the job ahead, meaning digging six large holes in very hard ground, I reached out to our local BRDC volunteer pool and received the promise of help from Carol Broderson, Niki Weir, William Roberts and Larry Paluzzi. We all met, (and just in the nick of weather time), at the school on Thursday, December 2nd. Devin Floyd joined us for an hour, on his way to Independence for another BRDC program.
Again, with a great deal of help from the kids, we succeeded in planting the rest of the trees, including roping them off and attaching the protective tubing. It was plenty cold and breezy, as can be seen in the pictures, but spirits remained high. Planting a tree is a commitment to and an association with the future. We pointed out to the kids that as they grow, so will the trees, and it will be fun to look back on this day while sitting under the shade of a spreading oak or maple.

This small but significant first step on the school grounds merely sets the stage for future activities. Among our ideas is to create a tree nursery on site, a protected space for planting seedlings and even seeds for later transplanting. From here on out, the kids are going to study the grounds with trail and garden in mind. The next step is to have the kids create a map of the campus, and then begin the process of thinking about where they would like to plant a grove, what they might place along the edges, as well as how best to utilize the resource of a small branch and wet zone on one corner of the property.

By Scott Jackson-Ricketts
photos © Scott Jackson-Ricketts and Devin Floyd