A Summer Filled with People and Trees

By Wyatt Jernigan, DukeEngage Intern

Wyatt facing off against invasive Himalayan Blackberry

Hello Everyone! My name is Wyatt and for the past 8 weeks I have been interning at Friends of Trees through a program called DukeEngage. This program sends around 400 Duke students all across the country and world each year to participate in meaningful civic engagement projects. There are 6 other students here in the Portland program, working at a range of organizations, all with an environmental focus. Some of the other placements are at The Nature Conservancy, OPAL Environmental Justice, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and Crag Environmental Law Center.


I have been spending my time at Friends of Trees mainly assisting the Green Space and Neighborhood Trees programs. From going on watering routes, to updating tree description info, or being out at a past GS planting site watering/daylighting/weed whacking (read Himalayan Blackberry removal), I have had a busy and exciting summer. No two days were the same, and I have had amazing opportunities to develop new skills and learn a lot!


As you may already know, planting does not happen during the summer at Friends of Trees (I am kind of sad I won’t get to be at one with all of the awesome volunteers!), rather this part of the year is spent getting ready and preparing for the planting season. However, this does not mean that there is any lack of work that needs to be done. Scheduling, planning, preparing for, and executing all the parts that are required for a planting is no small feat, and this summer I got an inside look at all the thought needed to pull it off.


Through my time with Green Space I got to visit a lot of different planting sites and see how the thousands of trees and shrubs planted are fairing under this intensely hot and dry Oregon summer (I really was expecting something more cool and cloudy). Through visiting all of these sites, I got to see parts of Portland that were somewhat far out (and even some of the suburbs) that I would not have normally been able to visit. I think this gave me a better sense of the city and its numerous green spaces. I also got to learn a lot about some of the native plants here in Oregon (some of my personal favorites include the Pacific Madrone, Oregon White Oak, and Ponderosa Pine). One of the coolest experiences I had was going to a site that had been planted 8 or so years ago and seeing how all of these tiny little shrubs and trees I had been watering and mulching around were going to grow and be well on their way to being much larger in the not too distant future. It was awesome to be able to envision all of the sites I had seen with baby plants as this lush “grown up” version. It really gave me a lot of inspiration moving forward that the work I was doing was going to help make a difference at these places (which of course wouldn’t have been even planted on the first place if not for the work of the volunteers, so thank you all!!).


You would think with a name like “Friends of Trees” that their mission would revolve around trees, however the most interesting thing I learned this summer was that that is not necessarily true. In a very technical sense, yes Friends of Trees operates at every turn by planting trees in and around Portland, however their real mission is to mobilize and inspire communities. They do so through trees and the different planting events. No one can be upset at more trees being planted! They provide so many health and general benefits to people and the surrounding environment. It is an ingenious way to bring together a group of people around a common goal that they can bond over and take a shared investment in. This summer I have seen the power of these events and the people behind them. Whether it is the 3,000+ plants  that were planted at a site by amazing volunteers, or a street tree that continues to get watered by a caring homeowner, everyone who participates in these events has the power to turn their surroundings into something greener and better! And whether it’s the outreach team going out trying to bring the amazing opportunities at Friends of Trees to as many people as possible, the various Crew Leaders and support people at planting events, Neighborhood Coordinators, or any number of the full time staff that, year after year, jump through logistical hoop after logistical hoop to execute their mission with nothing short of an ecstatic smile on their face, I know that the future of Friends of Trees is safe as long as these passionate people keep building community, and keep planting trees.