Six years and 4,500 trees later, the Save Maumee Grassroots Organization is more solid than an oak tree and more determined to do its bit to clean up the Maumee River, one of three that flow through Fort Wayne.
Saturday, about 60 volunteers came to the riverbank of the Maumee that runs along the same route as Parrot Road in New Haven and worked on a project to plant 1,400 feet of trees to stem erosion and pollution. Over a three-day period, the group expects to plant 550 trees, species of oak, chestnut, river birch, willow and hickory, among others.
For six years, volunteers have cut away invasive Asian honeysuckle, cleared trash and cut down trees to make way for new trees that will retain soil and water and reduce flooding, allowing water to purify by draining through soil.
The silty, shallow Maumee makes its way north to Lake Erie carrying pollutants from agricultural runoff, leaky septic systems and pesticides from chemically induced green lawns.
In late August and early September, toxic algae will sometimes bloom in Lake Erie's basin, turning drinking water nonpotable.
“When does nature get to win?” asked Abigail King, Save Maumee's founder and current president, as she oversaw Saturday's operation. “What I see over and over is you can pay to pollute.”
In a brochure, the nonprofit states that trees have been removed through energy easements and eminent domain, development, timber sales, disease due to the emerald ash borer, aggressive invasive species, wildlife that feast on young trees because wild grazing areas have disappeared, and climate change that allows tree-killing insects to thrive while at the same time trees are weakened by prolonged drought.
The Allen County surveyor's office is blamed for “indiscriminate removal of vegetation on ditches for maintenance so that water flows faster to rivers” and the Army Corps of Engineers' regulation that there be 15-foot buffers on levees.
Through grants from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Save Maumee has been able to buy trees and native seeds, but it's the toil of a growing number of volunteers who show up year after year and get their hands dirty that makes planting so many trees possible.
“You can't be mad or sad when you're in the woods doing good work,” volunteer Brian Foster said.
Olly Oligee came with two friends, Richard Hamm and Tonie Alt. A volunteer for several years, Oligee said she comes “because of Abby and we have a lot of fun.”
Alt said she volunteered “because I really like trees and I'm a witch, so I love trees.”
King and Lauren Conklin, board secretary, believe the nonprofit can be the key to educating local residents on the importance of healthy rivers and riverbanks.
Its current focus is the 58-acre parcel of land where the planting is taking place. The owner would just as soon get rid of it. There's a landfill on it, it floods and it's not cheap when it comes to taxes.
Jain Young's Heartland Communities runs a 9-acre incubator farm for the immigrant community on the land while Save Maumee is doing what it can to save the riverbank.
What becomes of the landfill is up in the air right now. It could become a nature preserve, private property, even a campground.
“Oh my gosh, you are beautiful,” King said as she looked around to see so many people digging, planting, watering and mulching. “I would have quit a long time ago if it weren't for God.”
Today is the last day to join the organization's effort to plant trees this year from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants should wear outdoor clothes and sensible shoes or boots and arrive at 501 Rose Ave. in New Haven.
Shovels and buckets are provided.