By Karen Cernich

Forest ReLeaf and Magnificent Missouri Launch Three-Year Partnership to Plant Hundreds of Trees Along the Katy Trail

The Tim and Maria O’Brien family of Fenton work together Saturday, March 27, to plant a tree along the Katy Trail near the Dutzow Trailhead.


As excited as the volunteers who showed up along the Katy Trail at Dutzow early Saturday, March 27, were, you would have thought they were being handed cash or candy instead of three-gallon Missouri native trees to plant in the ground. But to each them, the trees were a prize and getting to plant them was a treat because it was their contribution to the cause — restoring the riparian forest ecosystem and providing both beauty and habitat along the trail.

Volunteers included master naturalists like Denise Towell of Washington, tree enthusiasts like David Heck of St. Charles, and nature lovers like the Tom and Maria O’Brien family of Fenton. All were giddy with excitement as they proudly carried their trees and digging tools to staked flags marking the planting areas along a half-mile stretch of the Katy just south of the Dutzow trailhead.

Volunteers smile and cheer as they carry trees to be planting.

This tree-planting event was the first of several to come over the next three years, the result of a partnership between Magnificent Missouri and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, which operates a nonprofit community-assisted tree nursey.

“You are part of a bigger endeavor,” Meridith Perkins, executive director of Forest ReLeaf, told the volunteers. “Today is the day we are starting a three-year commitment to the Katy Trail where we are going to be planting 50-plus trees every season (spring and fall) for the next three years and really focusing on bringing back native tree species to the trail, bringing not only shade, but habitat, wetland and watershed protection.”

Dan Burkhardt, president of Magnificent Missouri, agreed.

“This is the start of what we think is a very big deal,” he said.

“We started Magnificent Missouri a few years ago to do events just like this — to get people involved in loving, helping and appreciating the Katy Trail.”

Funded by a grant from the Robert J. Trulaske, Jr. Family Foundation and in collaboration with Missouri State Parks, the trees will be planted along the Katy Trail (America’s longest and narrowest state park) bordering right of ways and other nearby locations. Varieties include slow-growing trees like bur oaks and other native oaks, as well as faster-growing sorts like hackberry and sycamores. The trees planted Saturday began as seedlings provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation to Forest ReLeaf, which continued the growing process at its nursery in Creve Coeur Park.

Volunteers planted trees along a half-mile stretch of the Katy Trail near the Dutzow Trailhead Saturday morning, March 27.

Now that the trees are in the ground along the trail, the main concern is making sure they get enough water to get established and survive. Missouri State Parks will manage the watering with tanker trucks small enough to drive on the trail. Cade Harp, a natural resource manager with Missouri State Parks whose territory includes the Dutzow trailhead, is excited about the new plantings and the fact that there will be even more in the near future.

“We’ve worked with Forest ReLeaf before on a small scale at some of the trailheads, but this project is major,” Harp said. “We like to see the reforestation of the area, back to what it was, bringing back the natives. We are always fighting invasive plants, so when we can add (natives) back instead, it helps restore what was here.”

Mike Sutherland, director of Missouri State Parks who grew up in the Holstein/Hopewell area and graduated from Warrenton High School, felt that same excitement.

Dan Burkhardt thanked volunteers for their help in planting the trees by providing them copies of the new special edition of “The Man Who Planted Trees.” Also shown are Mike Sutherland, director of Missouri State Parks, and Meridith Perkins, executive director of Forest ReLeaf of Missouri.

“At Missouri State Parks, we have a three-part mission: Natural resource stewardship, cultural resource (telling Missouri’s story) and recreation. So this project is really great because it touches on all three,” he said. “These kinds of things are lasting effort that people will be appreciating 50 and 100 years from now and even longer.”

All of the volunteers who participated in the March 27 tree planting left with a copy of a special edition of “The Man Who Planted Trees,” a slim story (just a few dozen pages) that packs a powerful and inspirational punch about the power of someone to change a landscape. Magnificent Missouri had 1,250 copies of the classic Jean Giono story printed as a special edition that includes information about the organization’s tree-planting efforts. Copies of the special edition are available for $10 at Bryan Haynes Studio Gallery, 10 West Second Street in downtown Washington, Mo., and here in our online book store.


About Forest ReLeaf

Mark Halpin, forestry manager of Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, shares tips and demonstrates how to plant a tree for the volunteers.

Forest ReLeaf of Missouri operates the only nonprofit community-assisted tree nursery in the region. Since it was founded in 1993, more than 200,000 trees have been planted through the bi-state area. This includes projects that have increased tree canopy in low-income areas, assisted with reforestation after major weather disasters and those that strive to promote peace and healing. The group’s main program is community tree distribution. Forest ReLeaf grows trees in its nursery and partner organizations, like the Boy Scouts or Magnificent Missouri, pick up a certain number of trees and plant them. There is an application process to be among the 40 or so partners selected each season (spring and fall). For more information, visit