It took a cross-country trip to see that ChariTree is really starting to take root
by Andrea Koehle Jones, Founder & Executive Director of The ChariTree Foundation
Vancouver — If a seedling is planted in a forest does anybody notice? This summer on a drive back to British Columbia from Ontario with my family I learned the answer is a definite yes. For the last five years, the Charitree Foundation – a children’s environmental tree planting charity I founded in 2006 – has been giving trees to campers at Canadian Camping Association (CCA) camps across Canada. In that time, children at CCA camps across Canada have planted nearly 100,000 trees.
Every year I receive encouraging photos and reports from camps about the program. Comments like these make me feel like I am doing something important and ChariTree is on the right track:
“We successfully planted 300 saplings at Camp Wenonah in July this year! It was a unique experience for campers and staff alike, providing them with the opportunity to bond with nature and to contribute to the land of the Camp they all hold so dear. Every camper, ages 8-18, had the chance to plant a tree in the location of their choice- some groups even planted tree gardens near their cabins which they could revisit and watch with care. Thank you Charitree Foundation for providing us with this wonderful opportunity.” – Janette, Assistant Director – Camp Wenonah
“We had lots of fun with this tree planting project. With a certified arborist on our team we made good use of the trees with strategic placement while making it a fun time for our campers.” – Derrik Porter, tripper, Lake Scugog Camp
I’ve always dreamed of seeing these trees myself but living on a tiny island off the coast of Vancouver made such a dream unrealistic until this summer. In June I decided to purchase a used pop-up trailer and drive with my husband and two children to Ontario to visit my parents. I instantly thought this would be the ideal opportunity to drop in on some camps, see the trees and hear about the program from camp staff. I also think its important to report back to all of ChariTree’s generous donors that their donations are making a real difference and continue to grow in so many wonderful ways.
School ended early due to the British Columbia teacher’s strike so we packed up and hit the road with our nine-year-old and eleven-year-old for a once-in-a-lifetime geography lesson. After eight days driving and camping across the northern US and a memorable visit with the grandparents on Lake Simcoe, we geared-up to head back across Canada.
The kids were excited for the next phase of the journey — to see the trees their mom had donated to summer camps. But which camps do we visit? The question was not as simple as I first imagined, there were at least three camps within two hours from our departure point in Orillia that had received trees. It was satisfying to realize that the Charitree Foundation was on the ground growing in so many places. It’s something I was reminded of again and again as we continued to drive west.
The first camp we visited was the YMCA Geneva Park on Lake Couchiching just outside Orillia. Camp youth leader, Tim Clement, welcomed us and took us around a grass field where a few weeks earlier campers had planted along the outside edge some beautiful little jack pines that will become a windbreak and an ideal sun shade.
Tim told us he was pleasantly surprised that many of the campers chose tree planting over more traditional camp activities. He said planting seedlings is something many campers have never experienced. Tim said they found it appealing that they could be part of planting trees that will grow for generations, beautify the camp and help the environment.
This story was reinforced to us when we visited Assiniboine Park zoo camp in Winnipeg. The camp takes in a large group of inner city kids. These kids don’t have many chances to experience nature so the park makes a big effort to allow kids to play in the trees by holding a week-long camp taking kids up in bucket cranes to see seeds in the tree canopy. They even set-up zip lines in the trees for the kids. Trees from ChariTree also play a big role in this program showing these kids the wonders of nature. A group of trees the youth planted on a section of perimeter road around the zoo has been left in a natural state for five years. In amongst the grass and mature jack pines are small pine seedlings sprouting up. Karen Pearce, Director of Grounds, Assiniboine Park Conservancy, says the kids that planted these trees ask to come back year after year to see how the trees are growing. It’s great to see these youth develop a sense of responsibility and pride for the environment in this way.
ChariTree has always believed there are some powerful lessons to be gained when campers are able to visit the trees they planted from previous summers. One of those lessons is that “from little things big things grow.” We experienced that ‘aha moment’ ourselves when we visited Kathy and Gary Koehler at Camp Kasota West on Sylvan Lake in Alberta. As the Alberta CCA rep responsible for taking tree orders and making sure camps in her province receive their ChariTrees, Kathy has played a vital role in ChariTree’s summer camp program.
Gary showed us where campers have been planting ChariTrees over the years. On our exploration we found some young seedlings planted earlier this summer as well as some strong and 8 ‘ tall blue spruce growing near the lakeshore that must have been four to five years old. To think they started out as tiny seedlings was inspiring.
Our 8,000 km road trip taught us that mother nature can also be harsh and cold. We experienced just about everything she could throw at us — tornado warnings, severe thunderstorms, flash floods and forest fires. At Caddy Lake Girl Guide Camp in Manitoba’s beautiful Whiteshell Provincial Park, we found ChariTrees meeting another need. Camp director Lindsay Lodge led us up to the tent platforms on a small ridge behind the camp kitchen. A couple of years ago a severe windstorm had knocked down many of the mature spruce and pine trees. The camp was helping replant the area with trees from ChariTree and campers were getting the opportunity to see how trees can help heal a scarred landscape.
Sometimes mother nature is not so kind to trees. Massive flooding this summer prompted Manitoba to declare a state of emergency and call on the military to help with sandbagging efforts. At Assiniboine Park, Karen showed us where the Assiniboine River had spilled over and flooded an area where campers had planted ChariTrees in previous years.
Earlier I mentioned the role provincial reps have in helping the tree program succeed. It was great to talk to Kathy about her experience and hear about some of the challenges of coordinating the orders and pick-up of the trees. I gained a better appreciation of the logistics required to arrange dates and times for multiple camps to pick up their trees. So thank you so much Kathy and all provincial reps and of course the CCA’s Catherine Ross for all the important work you do.
Some of the processes I have implemented, like the online order form are designed to simplify the process. Still, sometimes things fall through the cracks. I was disappointed to learn of instances where camps never received the trees they ordered, or were unable to make the pickup dates and so their trees were given to other camps. I will be taking some time to think of ways to improve the ordering and delivery process so these kinds of omissions don’t happen. I would appreciate any suggestions to make the program better.
Looking back on our trip and camp check-in I realize the partnership between the ChariTree Foundation and the Canadian Camping Association has established some deep roots. Trees are springing up across the country and campers are truly making their world a better place. When campers plant their Wish Trees they get to make a wish for the world – my wish is that the programs continues to grow and even more children will have the opportunity to get out in nature and plant a Wish Tree.