Trees, Veterans, and Public Health in Maryland

Story by Jenny McGarvey, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Four individuals plant a tree alongside the Chesapeake Bay at the Perry Point Veterans Medical Facility.
Partners chip in to plant a tree within view of the Chesapeake Bay as part of the Perry Point Earth Day celebration. Photo courtesy Anne Gilbert/Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Spring is the most popular time of year to plant trees. People are eager to get outside and volunteer, and the coinciding environmental holidays, like Earth Day and Arbor Day, are the perfect engagement opportunity. This popularity, however, can lead us to neglect the fall as a great time to plant. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service is encouraging fall tree plantings while also recognizing our veterans of war through Veteran’s Day tree planting celebrations. In addition to the parades and traditional ceremonies at which we honor our veterans, a tree planting can bring together a community in service, and provide benefits that everyone will enjoy for many years to come. 

The Maryland Forest Service works with a range of veterans facilities to plant trees on their properties and within their communities. These locations include local VFW posts and facilities within the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland healthcare system. The Maryland Forest Service provides technical assistance and trees, and the veterans and their communities chip-in their time and energy to plant and care for the trees. The veterans and Maryland Forest Service are finding ways to incorporate trees around existing memorials, within healing gardens, or along walking trails where the trees provide shade and additional beauty, as well as the suite of other social and environmental benefits we all enjoy.

In 2019, the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville, MD worked with the Maryland Forest Service for the medical center to become the first Arbor Day Foundation Tree Campus Healthcare. Perry Point VA Medical Center is the largest inpatient facility in the VA Maryland healthcare system. The Tree Campus Healthcare program was created in recognition that tree canopy is a well-documented and critical component of public wellness and community health infrastructure. Research links the presence of urban trees to reduced rates of cardiac disease, strokes, and asthma due to improved air quality; reduced stress; reduced obesity levels by promoting physical activity; and cooling cities that then lower deaths due to heat. The Tree Campus Healthcare Program recognizes health institutions that align tree education, investment, and community engagement with their wellness-driven missions. 

On Earth Day in 2019, Maryland Forest Service, Perry Point Medical Center, and the Town of Perryville hosted a tree planting on the border of the medical campus and a local community park. Occupational therapy patients at the medical center, community members, and partner representatives planted twenty-three trees and held a shoreline clean-up on the campus. This community forestry project helped Perry Point meet one of the five standards required of the Tree Campus Healthcare Program. The other four standards are forming and sustaining an advisory committee; developing a facility tree care plan; celebrating with and educating the local community; and a financial investment by the participating campus. In addition to their Earth Day tree planting, Perry Point hosted a Veteran’s Day celebration in 2019 to educate on the connections between public health and urban trees. The campus is gearing up to plant 48 more trees in accordance with their tree care plan in the fall of 2020.

The Maryland Forest Service and the VA Maryland healthcare system are pursuing similar opportunities to set up projects at the other facilities within the VA network. These may include the military hospitals in the four regions of state, but also facilities such as veterans assisted living communities. Maryland Forest Service is in the planning process to help establish a healing garden at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County.