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Newsbeat: Sweet ReLeaf

One recent milestone of Hurricane Katrina recovery has been a long time coming, but it’s also one that should pay dividends to the community for generations.  

This winter, Parkway Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to beautifying New Orleans public spaces, planted its 10,000th tree since Katrina as part of its program to restore the city’s urban forest.

“New Orleans is known for having such a unique and lush canopy, and it’s really important for us to bring that back,” says Jean Fahr, the group’s executive director.

Before the storm, New Orleans had one of the most verdant urban tree canopies in the nation, according to the American Forests Foundation. But storm winds and the salty floodwaters that followed killed an estimated 250,000 trees in the city alone. That estimate doesn’t include trees felled in the sprawling Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern reaches of New Orleans, the same area that has recently been smoldering with persistent marsh fires.

In response to such widespread losses, Parkway Partners launched its ReLeaf New Orleans campaign, through which it has been planting trees along neighborhood sidewalks, on neutral grounds, in parks, in playgrounds and elsewhere.  

“It’s a volunteer effort, it really is, and it takes a lot of fundraising. But individuals are ready to plant trees and we have been hearing from areas that haven’t traditionally had many trees, because now more people are realizing the benefits of having them,” Fahr says.

Those include lower energy bills thanks to the shade trees throw and their ability to fight air pollution and reduce stormwater run-off. Another important factor is the curb appeal trees add to neighborhoods. For instance, the round of plantings that brought Parkway Partners to its 10,000-tree milestone occurred in Bywater, where many new trees are now growing beside freshly renovated historic buildings and new businesses.

“The proudest streets are the ones with trees,” Fahr says. “It really helps announce to people that they’ve arrived somewhere, as opposed to all the blight we’ve had to deal with before.”

In fact, the next area Parkway Partners intends to target for new trees is St. Claude Avenue, a historic but long-neglected commercial stretch that is seeing its own rejuvenation these days.

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