Fredericksburg, VA: Volunteer Engagement for Success

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Anne Little, Co-Founder of Tree Fredericksburg (in yellow vest), guides volunteers during a fall tree planting.

Introduction

Tree Fredericksburg has a great deal to be proud of. As the Northern Virginia nonprofit approaches a decade of service to the region, they mark a milestone, having planted over 5,000 trees thus far. Led by husband and wife team Carl and Anne Little, the small organization’s culture of excellence in tree selection, planting, and care has fostered a community passionate about their trees, and invested in a sustainable future.

Planting Strategy and Best Practices 

Like many small towns in the greater Chesapeake Bay region, historic Fredericksburg boomed in the post WWII era, yet didn’t include street trees as part of their master planning.  Upon entering into the 21st century, the Littles were alarmed at how entire streets were planted ad hoc, but not in a comprehensive manner. Their grassroots effort to plant trees in a public park nearly a decade ago has grown into their organization, Tree Fredericksburg. Now, Carl and Anne Little’s work goes above and beyond getting trees in the ground; they have cultivated a vibrant volunteer community around tree planting and care.

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A Tree Fredericksburg volunteer clears mulch and girdled tree roots.

Recognized as a  2015 Chesapeake Forest Champion for their achievement as ‘Most Effective in Engaging the Public’, Tree Fredericksburg ensures solid tree establishment with the help of their dedicated volunteers. “Prior to planting, we make sure the roots of each tree are cleared out to make it easier for them to establish,” says co-founder Anne Little. Ensuring that their trees are planted optimally has produced a survival rate of over 90%, helping nearly all of the newly planted canopy establish and contribute benefits to Fredericksburg’s ecosystem. Anne notes, “We plant 15 gallon container trees in a mulch medium, and we wash this mulch off of the trees in order to get the roots right in contact with the native soil.  This enables the roots to better take up moisture and nutrients.  We also water our trees with 20 gallons of water weekly to ensure good growth.”

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A tree with its roots cleared out ready to be planted.

Anne notes that prepping all of the trees and auguring holes prior to the start of the planting season also enables Tree Fredericksburg to improve efficiency when moving from planting to planting throughout the season. By concentrating preparation efforts early in the season, the organization allows for additional time to train volunteers in the days leading up to the planting. With over 500 volunteers, Tree Fredericksburg involves many volunteers in tree prep and care before and after planting, with a few dozen volunteers helping get trees in the ground on planting days. 

Advocacy

Achieving these successful tree canopy outcomes has come not just from the ground up, but from strategically partnering with the City of Fredericksburg to improve the city’s municipal tree policies and practices. Ensuring the City had an updated approved species list for street-tree planting, updated mulching standards, a formal process for requesting trees, and sound policies for implementation were all imperatives for Tree Fredericksburg.  Aided by the influence of their volunteer base, the organization was able to affect change, ensuring that all future plantings could be done in a more sustainable and efficient way.

Conclusions

Throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, we often hear about community tree success stories in very urban areas. Tree Fredericksburg reveals a fantastic model for smaller cities and towns to follow, laying out a wonderful example of local collaboration, team-building, and change. Residents’ mindsets have been shifted with the changing landscape of the city to embrace more sustainable community to become more forward-looking has been transformed by these plantings, and so has the mindset of the residents who live there.

Related Resources:

Canopy Plan for Park has Branched out into City of Trees- Couple’s nonprofit has planted more than 4,000 trees in Fredericksburg, VA

Tree Fredericksburg Named Chesapeake Forest Champions

Volunteer Management- People Are the Solution

Volunteer Management Best Practices Study

Repeat Volunteers: Cultivating Tree Leaders Webcast

 

Story written by Lillie Leaf Solutions

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