Planting trees in Erie County is ReLeaf’s goal; find Earth Day events

A serious discussion about trees began in Erie County in 2020 in response to COVID-19, resulting in the ReLeaf initiative to plant a tree for every resident.

Vernon Peterson, executive director of the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park, said the coronavirus pandemic has caused the cancellation of tree-related programs for local students. Discussions turned to other ways to promote tree planting.

“We had a huge goal of wanting to plant 275,000 trees in five years in Erie County,” said Peterson, who is also the planting field coordinator for ReLeaf.

ReLeaf is now one of LEAF’s main initiatives, Peterson said. And while he’s not sure the goal of 275,000 trees will be reached within the suggested time frame, he hopes it will remain an ongoing project because of the importance of planting trees. ReLeaf’s mission is “to educate, inspire and empower the people of Northwestern Pennsylvania to positively impact the threat of climate change by planting trees in Erie County” . It’s also an opportunity to spruce up community spaces outside of Frontier Park, which is located in the northwest part of Erie.

“If you want to take a concrete step in covering up global warming, there’s no easier way to do that than to plant a tree,” Peterson said.

He said trees purify water and air.

“A tree that is even only 5 years old, it purifies the supply of oxygen that three or four people would consume in a day,” he said.

Peterson said trees can also help homeowners save on energy costs because trees provide cooling shade on hot days.

As they grow, trees also bear witness to the life, the changes, the history that is happening around them.

“We planted about 20,000 trees in two years,” he said.

Nearly 2,000 of them went to public schools in Erie, Peterson said, with trees at all sites except Edison Elementary, which is currently being considered for renovation or replacement. School trees included native seedlings and saplings 6 inches to 3 feet tall and an orchard of 200 fruit trees behind JoAnna Connell, he said. He added that ReLeaf has also worked with parochial and private schools and is looking to expand into the Millcreek Township School District.

Peterson said new trees in schools had a 70-75% success rate and those that succumbed to two- or four-legged creatures, grim reapers or other destroyers would be replaced.

Nearly 1,000 trees have been planted on Erie Housing Authority property, he said. City parks, including Burton and Franklin, also received trees. Several hundred trees went to Camp Glinodo in eastern Erie County and Camp Fitch in western Erie County, Peterson said. Many other organizations and sites have also hosted trees.

ReLeaf typically does public tree giveaways in the spring and fall, he said, with fall being the best time to plant because summer watering issues no longer exist.

“This spring, we donated over 1,000 trees to the public to plant in their homes,” he said.

Anyone taking 10 or more trees was asked to provide their location so they could be mapped and tracked, just like trees planted by ReLeaf.

“He’s been well received in the community,” Peterson said of the overall initiative.

To learn more, call 814-453-5323 or visit

Contact Dana Massing at Follow her on Twitter @ETNmassing.

5 tips for planting a tree

City of Erie Arborist Sarah Peelman shared these tips for anyone looking to plant a tree:

  1. Do not plant the tree so deep that its roots choke under the ground. Plant the top of the roots at the same height they were in the pot or bale and burlap.
  2. Be sure to water it during the summer months, especially July and August and especially during its first and second summers.
  3. Mulch the root zone of trees. Grass absorbs nitrogen 80% faster than a sapling, so it might not get the nutrients it needs without mulch.
  4. When mulching, apply it like a donut around the tree and not like a volcano stacked against the tree. The mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep but a few inches from the trunk so the bark doesn’t get soggy.
  5. Look up before you plant anything. Make sure your tree has enough room to grow, especially if there are power lines overhead.

Earth Day/Arbor Day/other events

Earth Day is April 22 and Arbor Day is April 29. Various local organizations are hosting free environment-related events this month, including:

∎ International Recycling Group, newBin, the Erie SeaWolves, and Spaeder Electric are hosting an Earth Day cleanup April 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home, 560 E. Third St. People can s register to participate at; those who do not register online can register in person beginning at 9:30 a.m. Organizers said masks must be worn on home property.

∎ Sustainable Behrend will host a free screening of the 2015 documentary film “The True Cost,” which explores the environmental impact of the fashion industry, on April 22 at 3 p.m. at Bruno’s Café at Penn State Behrend, 4701 College Drive, Harbor Creek Township. Three works of art made from recycled materials will be on display throughout the day. Additionally, volunteers will be at Wintergreen Gorge at 5 p.m. to pick up litter. Meet at the Prishak parking lot. 814-898-6000,

∎ The Spring Clean-up at the Près Isle State Park will take place on April 23rd. Volunteers can show up at the Rotary Pavilion anytime between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. to receive a cleanup spot, gloves, and bags. Lunch will be served from 10 a.m. to noon. 814-833-7424,

∎ “Investing in Our Planet” is the theme of an Earth Day celebration in Erie on April 23 from noon to 2 p.m. in Perry Square. There will be an electric vehicle show, community and business information tables, and more.

∎ “The Ripple Effect” will take place on April 23 at 4 p.m., from Dobbins Landing and travel to the Erie Maritime Museum, 150 East Front St. This is the Erie portion of the National Water Dance, an event in which dancers from 65 locations across the United States will simultaneously perform the same dance passage designed to create climate awareness, specifically of the world’s water resources. Erie’s performance will involve dancers from local troupes. There will also be exhibitions and performances of art, poetry, graphic design and other forms of expression as well as environmental exhibitions., or email

∎ Mercyhurst University’s Sister Maura Smith Earth Day Lecture will feature Lisa Britton, Director of Sales and Marketing and Sustainability Champion for Industrial Louvres Inc., a manufacturer of custom architectural metal products. Birtton will discuss “Creating a Healthier Future Using a Holistic Approach to Sustainability” April 27 at 7 p.m. in the university’s Mercy Heritage Room, 501 E. 38th St. day-lecture-addresses-a-holistic-approach-to-sustainability

∎ An Arbor Day event will be hosted by the City of Erie, ReLeaf and the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House on April 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Art House, 201 E. 10th St. Organizers announced that there would be a gift tree, tree plantings, demonstrations and crafts.

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