Randy Rogers grabbed a shovel and started digging a hole at Green Lawn Cemetery. But the new grave in the cemetery was not meant to be a grave.
Within minutes, Rogers filled the hole with a young white oak tree, his seventh planting of the day. There were five more.
“We have to plant trees now,” said Rogers, who earned the nickname “Lorax of Green Lawn”.
“We feel like we waited until the last minute,” he said.
To replace some of the state’s oldest trees, which are nearing the end of their life cycle, the cemetery has set aside an annual budget of $ 15,000 to plant 150 to 200 native trees each year. Rogers just completed the third spring planting season of the Emergency Canopy Restoration Project.
On the cemetery grounds, 60 to 70 percent of the original oak and maple trees begin to succumb to hundreds of years of insects, disease, lightning strikes, and loss of branches and limbs from extreme weather conditions. When they were just acorns and saplings, Ohio was not yet a state.
“At one point, the tree is so old and has so much accumulated ailments that it either dies or falls,” said Rogers, who volunteers at the cemetery at least five days a week. “There is nothing behind to replace them.”
Many Green Lawn guests visit the space to study historic tombstones, jog, picnic, or walk their dogs. The non-profit association that operates the grounds offers free, self-guided, full-service historical tours. And the cemetery is often used as an educational tool and urban arboretum for forest educators.
“If you don’t plan for the future by replanting new things… all of a sudden that green canopy is gone,” said Kathy Smith, director of forestry extension at Ohio State University. “In an urban setting, you almost try to recreate what’s going on in the woods, and that has to depend on the human side.”
Green Lawn is also a popular destination for animals who should also benefit from the tree restocking effort. For example, during the first weeks of May and September, the site is a green oasis for migrating songbirds that fly to and from Canada’s boreal forests.
“It takes a lot of food and stamina to do the flight. Green Lawn is like a rest stop on a bird road, ”said Jim McCormac, retired Ohio Department of Natural Resources biologist and former member of the Green Lawn Cemetery board of directors. “These places are growing in weight and importance as we are reducing habitat at a remarkable rate.”
Rogers, who first visited Green Lawn as a bird watcher, keeps birds in mind as he maps and plants the area’s latest generation of trees. Using a palette of around 30 basic species, Rogers spread trees of varying heights, flowering seasons, and aesthetics across the field.
“My process is 70% science and 30% art,” Rogers said.
He placed witch hazel, which has medicinal properties, near the grave of Lincoln Goodale, the town’s first physician. Soon, Rogers will be taking tree seeds from Frederick Douglass’s grave at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York, and planting them in Green Lawn near the headstone of local civil rights legend, the Headstone of Reverend James. Poindexter.
“This is what we want to see our communities do – periodically make these plantings so that you have trees of different ages gradually established,” said Lisa Bowers, ODNR urban forester for central Ohio.
Diligent planting also helps protect urban trees from invasive plants, pests and disease, Bowers said.
The canopy restoration project began three years ago when a team measured, identified and mapped the 4,343 trees in the cemetery. By the end of the year, Rogers hopes to increase that number to 4,600 trees.
And by the end of the seven-year effort, the hope is to extend the life of the cemetery’s mixed oak forest for another 200 years.
Today, Green Lawn has about 11 trees per acre, a far cry from the site’s peak arboreal season around 1880, when about 15 trees graced each acre.
“This is what we want to come back to,” Rogers said.