From the majestic oaks that line St. Charles Avenue to the crape myrtles that envelop the city’s neutral grounds in fuchsia and lavender, New Orleans has long been known for it majestic urban canopy. But the city’s lush landscape suffered a severe blow during Hurricane Katrina, when more than 100,000 trees were blown over or died from sitting in salty floodwaters.
Six years later, both public and private groups have made significant progress in replanting the trees that were lost, restoring roughly half of what was lost. This week, one of the main players in the re-greening effort — Parkway Partners — planted its 10,000th tree since the storm.
“We’re going to be Tree City, U.S.A., again,” said Executive Director Jean Fahr, as the lucky tree, a 15-gallon elm, was planted on Desire Street near St. Claude Avenue.
Its hard to estimate precisely how much of the tree canopy was lost in the storm and flood, but the loss was massive, said Ann Macdonald, director of the city’s Parks and Parkways department. To restore New Orleans’ natural charm, the city has created several programs, including a $750,000 grant project that resulted in nearly 3,000 new trees being planted throughout the city, Macdonald said. The department is also about to re-landscape Poydras Street from Claiborne Avenue to the river.
In addition, Macdonald said the city has collaborated with local organizations to plant another 4,000 to 5,000 trees. These trees vary in type, from live oaks to Chinese fringe trees, and have been planted in all parts of the city.
“We are constantly working with community groups,” she said. “Partnerships have been the answer for Parks and Parkways’ survival post-Katrina.”
One of those community groups is Hike for KaTREEna, which has planted close to 13,000 trees since 2007, according to director Connie Uddo.
“Our goal is to hit 15,000 this year,” she said
The organization, founded in 2006, was created by longtime resident Monique Pilie, who decided to hike the Appalachian Trail — from Georgia to Maine — to raise awareness and collect pledges. She vowed to plant one tree for every mile she hiked.
“She hiked 2,000 miles,” Uddo said. “But she planted more.”
Hike for KaTREEna’s roughly $40,000 planting season runs from October to May, and the group plants mainly crape myrtle and magnolia trees, which are all purchased locally, she said. The group has worked in more than 50 neighborhoods and on several neutral grounds, schools and parks, she said.
“The trees are coming in now, they are filling out and taking shape,” Uddo said. “I drive down the street, and I think, ‘Wow, our footprints are all over the place.’”
St. Paul’s Homecoming Center and Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, among others, have also contributed, Uddo said, noting an initiative in Lakeview that planted 10 miles’ worth of green space, or 3,000 trees, she said.
On a smaller scale, individual efforts by residents have helped speed along the restoration.
Local lawyer Ted Le Clercq began planting oaks along St. Charles Avenue in 2006 as a way to give back to the community.
Le Clercq has planted 300 live oaks to date, ranging in size from 30 to 200 gallons, bringing the avenue’s oak count to nearly 1,000. The $350,000 project raked in money from around the city and the nation, with contributors as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles, he said.
“I, like many people, think St. Charles holds a special place in the city,” he said. “People feel strongly about it because of what it means to New Orleans.”
Residents replanting trees in their yards has also helped. John Benton, president of Bayou Tree Service, said his company has planted about 3,000 trees since the hurricane, including all of Le Clercq’s oaks.
Other major replanting efforts have taken shape within the city’s parks.
John Hopper, chief development officer at City Park, said City Park lost 2,000 of its 12,000 trees after Katrina. Since then, officials have replanted 4,000 trees, with more than 50 species represented.
It will take time for the canopy to flourish, Hopper said. But it will be worth the wait.
“We have to start small,” he said. “We also need to think that even if we can’t enjoy them, our grandchildren can.”
By Sydni Dunn, staff writer
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