Justice was top of mind for everyone at the West Eugene Martin Luther King Day planting on Saturday January 20th. The event had been postponed from earlier in the week because of the winter storm that brought ice, frigid temperatures, downed trees, and power outages. Luckily by Saturday, Eugene had thawed out enough for three crews of volunteers to plant 25 trees in their community.
“It was cold, but everyone was so excited and kept up their spirits,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke.
After a week of harsh winter weather, people were excited to get outdoors. The planting started at Berkeley Park in West Eugene, a high priority planting area. Spurred by a call to do something for their community, all three crews traveled to their planting sites on foot rather than in cars. The intimate events that our Eugene team hosts create an atmosphere of connection that is perfect for the MLK Day holiday.
Much of the conversation that day was about the winter storm and the hardships people either avoided or endured depending on how lucky they were.
“Downed trees aren’t just a tree maintenance issue or a climate change issue,” Erik says. “It’s a justice issue. Trees that don’t receive proper care are more likely to fail. If we want everyone to have access to the benefits of trees, we need to make sure that tree care and maintenance is available too.”
Just like we do at every planting event, we highlight how planting trees is just the beginning. Tree care and community stewardship is the path to long-lasting trees, whose benefits increase exponentially as they mature. Planting is climate action worthy of a day of service. Caring for trees and communities is a daily practice.
On February 17, Friends of Trees honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with six different planting events. Understanding how issues of environmentalism and equity intersect in today’s world is crucial to our work. Making sure that everyone has access to the benefits of trees is why we plant, and MLK Day events are always inspiring.
On Saturday, we had events in Vancouver, Beaverton, Bethany and Salem, and volunteers came out with eagerness and generosity. “Without all of you, we’re just a pile of trees in a parking lot,” Ian Bonham, Senior Neighborhood Trees Specialist, told volunteers in Vancouver.
On MLK Day itself, our Eugene Branch facilitated two particularly special events. In the morning, the City of Eugene dedicated a park in the Bethel-Danebo neighborhood as Andrea Ortiz Park, in honor of the two-term councilor and first Latina on the Eugene City Council. Councilor Ortiz passed away in 2017, and is remembered for her passionate investment in her community.
Volunteers, city staff, and community members gathered in the park as Ortiz’s family planted a magnolia tree dedicated to her. In honor of both Ortiz and King, volunteers planted 60 more trees where the park is expanding and 11 trees in the surrounding neighborhood. “What better way to honor that legacy than to do a memorial planting for our own beloved community member, Andrea Ortiz, for all of the work she did,” said Mayor Lucy Vinis.
In the afternoon, Friends of Trees partnered with the NAACP Eugene-Springfield and Willamalane Parks and Recreation to plant trees in five different parks in Springfield. The NAACP organized the event as part of their tree equity project. After opening remarks from Springfield City Councilor Steve Moe, volunteers planted 18 trees and participated in other park beautification projects like weeding, mulching, and tree care work at a past project location.
“It was a beautiful day to plant trees as a community,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “We are so grateful to the volunteers in the west Eugene and Springfield neighborhoods for bringing such spirit to the day. We’ve been doing these MLK Day collaborations for years, and we always look forward to it.”
Mattie Reynolds Park was the perfect site for our MLK Day of Service.
Along with 17 new trees, a new park in the City of Eugene has great historical significance. Mattie Reynolds Park, the site of our January 18th Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, honors one of Eugene’s founding Black families, Sam and Mattie Reynolds. The Reynolds’ fight for civil rights was one of their many important contributions to Eugene and the surrounding area, and adding trees to the park that bears their name seems a fitting MLK Day event.
Friends of Trees Eugene, and the City of Eugene, with sponsorship support from Mountain Rose Herbs, hosted the community tree planting event that added the new trees to Mattie Reynolds Park, along with planting 31 trees in surrounding neighborhoods.
The day’s featured speaker was Pastor Deleesa Meashintubby from St. Mark CME Church, the oldest African American church in Eugene. Also in attendance, along with many community volunteers, were Sam and Mattie Reynolds’ daughter and granddaughter. We’re honored to have played even a small role in helping establish this important tribute to the Reynolds family.
Photo: Community volunteers plant trees at Mattie Reynolds Park. Photo courtesy of Dean Walton.