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There are few trees in north St. Louis. Here's how 2 organizations hope to change that

 A young volunteer proudly carries his oak tree to its new home in Gwen Giles Park, along the future Hodiamont Greenway.
Forest ReLeaf of Missouri
A young volunteer proudly carries his oak tree to its new home in Gwen Giles Park, along the future Hodiamont Greenway.

St. Louis’ tree canopy is in decline, particularly in the city’s underserved neighborhoods on the north side. It wasn’t always this way, said Almetta Cookie Jordan, site administrator for the Scott Joplin House.

“It was a really beautiful community,” she said, “but as the neighborhoods became poorer — and the matriarchs and patriarchs in the neighborhood died off and left housing that families didn't want because they had their own housing — they became poor neighborhoods. Trees are the last thing someone thinks about when you're trying to pay rent and pay utilities.”

The problem is not just an aesthetic one. Healthy trees make neighborhoods beautiful, and they promote better health outcomes for residents.

“Besides shade, trees will cause your utility bills to go down. Trees will help with childhood asthma,” Jordan said. “When you have trees you don't have as much asthma, and asthma is rampant in north St. Louis because we have no tree cover. We have no healthy trees.”

The existing tree canopy in north St. Louis is the lowest in the region. That’s why Forest ReLeaf, which has worked to increase the region’s tree canopy for more than three decades, will partner with Missouri State Parks and the Missouri Department of Conservation to give away 100 trees to city residents at the Scott Joplin House on April 29.

“We're expanding that tree canopy in areas that we don't typically have jurisdiction to plant, [like] in your backyard,” said Forest ReLeaf Executive Director Meridith Perkins. “We want to encourage everyone in the city to take advantage of that.”

The April 29 event will also include a listening session to gather public input on a newly envisioned City Tree Farm at the historic site.

Meridith Perkins and Billy Haag
Emily Woodbury
Meridith Perkins, left, is executive director of Forest ReLeaf. Billy Haag, right, is Forest ReLeaf’s forestry manager.

Jordan said establishing a tree nursery at Scott Joplin House is fitting, since Joplin wrote many songs about trees and flowers — and even an opera titled “Treemonisha.”

“We're a state agency, part of the state park system, so technically, we are a state park,” she added. “We have a parcel of land that's a little under four acres.

Forest ReLeaf is expected to break ground on City Tree Farm in 2024.

“What we aim to do with this city tree farm idea, and the distribution that we're launching at the end of April, is to create a space in the city where people can have direct access and have a really positive experience with nature,” Perkins said.

Perkins and Forest ReLeaf Forestry Manager Billy Haag joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss their efforts to bring tree cover back to north St. Louis, how invasive pear trees, while quite popular, cause big problems for our ecosystem and how the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has altered the region’s tree canopy. Find this episode of St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Forest ReLeaf and Scott Joplin House partner to bring quality tree cover to north St. Louis

Related Events
What: Forest ReLeaf’s Pear Tree Buy-Back
When: Opens March 15, with tree pickup on April 18
Where: CommuniTree Gardens Nursery, 2194 Creve Couer Mill Road, Maryland Heights, MO 63146

What: Arbor Day Tree Giveaway at Scott Joplin House
When: April 29
Where: Scott Joplin House, 2658 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103

What: CommuniTree Program
When: Applications are open through the end of April

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.