Planting the Future

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Breaking rocks in the hot sun isn’t something most people usually want to do, but considering what fellow New Orleanian Monique Pilie did to get 47 volunteers out planting trees this past Saturday, a couple of hours with shovels and pickaxes is nothing.

Pilie’s family has lived in New Orleans since the 1700s and when Hurricane Katrina hit, Pilie felt a deep sense of loss like most of us did. Not discounting the enormous tragedy of lost lives and homes, Pilie also mourned

the destruction of the thousands of native trees—massive live oaks, blooming crepe myrtles and magnolia trees and others—that gave the city a verdant glow in an urban environment. Pilie decided to become the real Dr. Suess's Lorax and “speak for the trees” of New Orleans.

“I rode it out (Hurricane Katrina) in Covington,” Pilie says. “It didn’t flood, but the tree damage was extensive. You couldn’t walk out the door without bumping into a tree. I knew I couldn’t go back to New Orleans without doing something.”

But instead of typical fundraising efforts, Pilie took a different approach and started an organization Hike for KaTREEna. In exchange for people pledging money for trees, Pilie would hike the entire Appalachian Trail, which is 2,175 miles from Georgia all the way up to the hinterlands of Maine. For the hike, Pilie quit her job and financed the trip, by selling her house.

She began her hike in April of 2006 and finished up in October. During that span, she asked people via her website to donate to the cause by buying one tree, a grove, a thicket or a forest. Pilie thinks that the entire project—2,175 trees for each mile of the trail—should cost around $100,000 and she is still soliciting donations.

“It’s been going great,” Pilie says. "So far we’ve raised $64,000, but we're still short of our goal."

On this Saturday, Pile and her army of volunteers—which included Ann Macdonald, director of the city’s department of Parks and Parkways, City Council representative Stacy Head, representatives from City Council representative Cynthia Willard’s office, Teen Leads (an organization of teenage volunteers), students from Louise S. McGhee School and members of the Broadmoor Improvement Association —planted trees at the intersection of Earhart Boulevard and Jefferson Davis Parkway. In this case, the trees will become part of the neutral ground in that area, but Pilie is willing to plant trees on people’s lawns and those empty spaces between the sidewalk and the street. With this planting, Pilie has returned more than 1,000 trees to New Orleans and she’s picked up a number of sponsorships including Mr. Handyman International, Alliance for Community Trees, Treegator and the Home Depot Foundation.

Pilie plans on continuing these volunteer plantings every Saturday, so checkout her website for upcoming events. And when you donate money or time to Pilie you’re doing something for the New Orleans of the future. Remember the ancient Chinese proverb: One generation plants the trees, another gets the shade.

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