Grade 5 students from École Willow Point fill soil around the mountain ash they planted as a legacy tree at Simms Creek Park Tuesday.

LEAVING A LEGACY

Project helps students develop a sense of community ownership

Grade 5 students at École Willow Point have now wrapped up their elementary school careers. But they’ll always have a reminder of that time.

With the help of city parks staff and parent volunteers, the students planted a mountain ash as a legacy tree at Simms Creek Park Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a class plant a tree as a legacy project,” said their teacher, Madame Ann Strebel.

After levering the 12-foot tree into a hole prepared by city staff — in an act that recalled the iconic image of U.S. Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II — the students swarmed around the trunk to shove dirt over the root ball using hands they proudly showed covered with dirt.

“It was about showing community responsibility; about a little ownership of where they live,” said parent volunteer Sandra Fricker, who suggested the idea of the tree.

“If you’re invested in something, you’re going to look after it,” added Jason Knight, her partner.

The students raised money through a concession at the school’s track meet early this month. After agreeing to the legacy tree idea, they found they had enough to purchase the mountain ash at Sticks ‘n Stones Nursery and also get a set of matching, blue “Class of 2015 T-shirts.

Still, said Fricker, the project would not have come together without the wholehearted — and prompt — support of the city.

“The city was phenomenal, working with us on such short notice,” said Fricker, who said the elapsed time from request to planting was 10 days. “We got an immediate ‘Yes’ and nothing but a positive response.”

Parks workers Tom Clarke and Trina Soltys prepared the area, near the Simms Creek pumphouse, and oversaw the planting as the youngsters swarmed around, all trying to get a hand in the action.

The only element not ready in the short timeframe was a plaque that will be placed near the tree to identify it as a gift from the Willow Point class. The city crew is still determining the best option to avoid potential vandalism.

“This will be a little bit of a test case, because we don’t normally do legacy trees,” said Soltys.

Fricker said the mountain ash was chosen as it matches the flora planted nearby in the park.

To help the young tree develop in what has been essentially a drought condition, a “gator” drip bag was hung from the trunk to provide a gradual trickle of water to the roots. The tree was further helped when a bit of rain fell the next day.

“This is something we think is hugely important at this age,” Fricker said of the living legacy gift. “The more anchored they are in their community, the better.”