Third graders from Meadowlark Elementary School were equipped with hoodies for the cold, rainy day and with shovels to make a milestone happen at Meadows Park in west Salt Lake City.
Along with Mayor Erin Mendenhall, they dug a hole Wednesday, picked up some chunks of dirt with their hands, rolled a Northern Catalpa tree to it, and planted it.
This was the 1,000th tree that the city has planted in 2022 west of Interstate 15 — once again fulfilling a goal Mendenhall initiated when she took office in 2020; planting 1,000 trees a year.
“There are 100 ways the city is working to change the history that has led to the disparities on the west side and environmental justice. Tree planting is one of those.” Mendenhall said. “But it’s also about reconnecting where freeways and rail divide. It’s about silencing the train horns. It’s about economic opportunity and making communities that thrive.”
With this program, Utah’s capital has planted more than 7,300 trees. But there’s a bigger need to grow the tree cover on the west side, which has been disproportionately affected by pollution and where the tree canopy has long lagged behind the more established east side. That’s why her administration has west-side specific goals.
Keeping the trees alive, however, has proved to be challenging.
“We expect that not every tree we plant will survive,” Mendenhall said. “And we’re not going to let that stop us from making the trees happen.”
The mayor encouraged neighbors to water and take care of the trees on their park strips and community. “They belong to all of us,” she said, “even if it’s not in front of your house.”
The children who helped plant five trees in the Fairpark neighborhood Wednesday were enthusiastic about being part of the effort. It took a couple of tries to get holes deep enough for the trees, but once they got it done, they raised their fists in victory.
Maybe in the future, Mendenhall told the kids, when they become adults, they can visit the park and see a mature tree that they planted and watched grow at the same time as them.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.