Nearly a year after a tornado destroyed about 6,000 trees in north Minneapolis, forestry crews Monday began the task of replacing them.
The stark, shadeless block of Upton Avenue looks even more desolate from the sky, according to the area's council member, Don Samuels, who recently saw an aerial shot of the north side. He says even today, there are telltale signs of the tornado's path.
"You see in this quadrangle of green, there was this ribbon of grey where the trees were uprooted."
Samuels said the skinny saplings being planted this spring are small details. But a natural environment can deter crime and even enhance a neighborhood's psyche, he said.
"Coming out in this blank landscape and looking around and not feeling close to anything — certainly not close to nature — is a pretty stark thing for a child or a family to endure, especially when you look a couple of blocks away and see the canopy. The contrast would be depressing," Samuels said.
North Minneapolis has come a long way since the May 22 tornado, but it is still rebuilding. According to the most recent city figures from February, about 150 homes had roof damage. A third of those homes were vacant.
Samuels applauds the city's park board for what officials are calling the Northside Treecovery Program, a quarter-million-dollar effort. The crews will plant 3,100 residential trees over the next two months, adding several hundred more boulevard trees to the north side that were not there before the tornado. Tree restoration will also come to the hard-hit Theodore Wirth Park, where a broader set of improvements is under way.
At a ceremonial tree planting Monday on Upton Avenue, city and state officials grabbed shovels and planted the first boulevard tree, a nursery-grown elm just about 12 feet tall.
City forester Ralph Sievert acknowledged this is just a wispy shadow of some of the 60-foot-tall trees they are replacing. But the young elm will take off pretty fast, Sievert said.
"The first year, they'll stay alive and the leaves are green, but the next year, they actually start putting out some growth and really get going," Sievert said. "In about five years, when you park your car in the street, you'll notice it's cooler because you'll have some shade there."
The crews are planting a mix of trees — familiar maples to the Kentucky coffeetree, alder, and river birch trees. They're asking the public to help water the boulevard trees to ensure their survival. Northside residents are also encouraged to replenish lost trees on their private property with free ones through the local nonprofit Tree Trust.