Eleven-year-old Tommy Money, along with friends Addie Ratliff, 9, and Emily Ratliff, 6, huddled together to discuss what they would name their longleaf pine sapling as they gently placed it into the ground with the help of District Senior Land Management Specialist Will VanGelder.
The girls, who pledged to come back and check on the progress of their tree, quickly looked around for mature trees and other landmarks that will help them identify the location of their little fledgling tree when they come back in 10 years. Then they darted off to another spot about 15 feet away to start the tree naming and planting ritual again.
As members of the Sumter County Homeschool Fellowship, the girls were taking part in the District’s first ever Florida Arbor Day volunteer tree planting on Friday, Jan. 21. Held at the District’s Lake Panasoffkee property in Wildwood, the event kicked off the second year of the award-winning “Get Outside!” campaign.
Withlacoochee River Basin Board Member Al Grubman, left, and Jan Grubman prepare an oak seedling for planting.
Several dozen District staff members and local residents helped plant more than 350 longleaf pines, live oaks, sand live oaks and palmettos around the property’s campground to replace trees that have died over the years. The trees will eventually help improve the habitat for native animals such as Sherman’s fox squirrels, red-headed woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds and southeastern American kestrels.
“One of the things we’ve really been focusing on is promoting stewardship of our lands, which simply means having a shared responsibility,” said Carmen Sanders, District Senior Land Use Specialist. “And what better way for residents to gain a shared responsibility than to come out and help improve the campground by planting trees.”
Before breaking into teams, all participants received instructions from Raymond “Bubba” Garcia, a District land management specialist and certified arborist. Garcia provided tips and handouts on tree placement and scoring the roots. Sumter County Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Coordinator Jim Davis was also on hand to help plant trees and provide guidance.
The event also attracted several of the District’s Facebook followers, including Amy Waldron and her son Matthew of Ocala. The homeschool mom-and-son team not only came to plant trees, but they also came prepared to bicycle and camp overnight at the property. As the event came to a close, several trees still needed to be planted. VanGelder called out to his three teammates and asked if they wanted to help. Not surprisingly, Tommy, Addie and Emily squealed in unison, “Yay! We’re planting more!”
The Ratliffs, Addie, left, and Emily, center, with friend Tommy Money, plant a pine tree.