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Students and state workers try to break a world record ... in tree planting

Julia Botero
Groups of people planted trees on this stretch of land as fast as they could for an hour.

A group from Jefferson and Lewis Counties has helped set a new world record... by planting a whole bunch of trees in just one hour.  Groups all over North America joined in the challenge in their communities. More than 200,000 trees were planted in nearly 30 different places across the continent. 

At the Sand Flats State Forest in the Tug Hill, people were racing to get new saplings into the ground.

It’s not exactly perfect tree planting weather. The sky is overcast with a strong wind and temperatures in the mid 40s. Groups of two, geared with shovels and buckets, are spread out at the edge of cleared forest land. They stand ready and then, they hear a signal that means go.

Shovels dig into the ground. The people here are a mix of seasoned environmentalists and first-timers like office workers and high school students. In the next hour they'll be moving fast across this stretch of land planting trees as they go. Brownie Davis is digging through piles of slash.

“I feel like we’re just digging through bark here,” Davis says.

Credit Julia Botero / WRVO News
The group planted close to two thousand of these white pine saplings.

Slash is pieces of dead wood and roots leftover after logging. Davis kneels on the ground and reaches into her bucket for a sapling.

"What you really want to do is dig the hole a little deeper than you’re going to plant it and you make sure the roots go all the way down and then you pull it up a little bit,” Davis says.

This piece of land used to be a Scotch pine plantation. The trees were removed after a fungal disease killed most of them.

John Howe, with ReEnergy, says the infected trees were sent to the company's biomass plant and burned into electricity.

“If they’d waited any longer eventually they would have been too far gone for our plant to use. They would have just turned to dust, instead of a chip,” Howe says. 

ReEngergy and the state worked along the with a nonprofit called the Sustainable Forest Initiative to get people out. Howe says ReEnergy's here because the company has a stake in this working forest. They need to make sure there will always be enough trees here for their business.

Groups across North America who want more trees in their communities in places like Baltimore, New York City and Ottawa are  racing against time to plant as many trees as possible before 2 p.m.

“Our goal is 250,000 trees. We are going to try and plant t2,000 trees here today so we’ll see,” Howe says.


Taylor Seeloff and Willy Humphrey have gotten into a rhythm. They're working alongside their classmates from the BOCES program at HG Sackett Technical CenterHumphrey digs the hole while Seeloff plops the sapling into the ground and tucks in the dirt.

“We’d better hurry up Taylor, we’re falling behind,” says Humphrey.

The boys say they’ve planted trees before with their forestry class. Their teacher, Kimberly Brown signed them up for this.

“The reason why we are doing this is because we are helping to plant trees so its part of putting regeneration into the state forest. That’s what I hope they get out of this today,” Brown says.

Even the group's bus driver, Gerald Carter, decided to help out.

“I did this myself 60 years ago through the FFA. Future Farmers of America,” Carter says.

Back at the edge of the clearcut where the planting started, John Howe looks at his watch. Time's up. 

Rhonda Breen runs back to the starting area with an empty bucket. She helped plant 96 trees. Breen says she works behind a desk and doesn't do much yard work. 

“Good thing my husband isn't seeing me out here. He’d be having me do something else at the house. Hey you know how to do other things besides laundry.”

Credit Julia Botero / WRVO News
Employees from ReEnergy Holdings, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and students from the Jefferson and Lewis Counties BOCES joined in on the attempt.

In the end,  the group didn't make their goal of 2,000 trees in one hour. But they came pretty close. And it didn't really matter. After all the numbers of the other teams across the country were added up, more than 200,000 had been planted across North America. That set a new record. An official confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records will come out in six to eight weeks.