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Largo Leader
Students organize tree-planting projects
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Photos by JULIANA A. TORRES
For his Eagle Scout project, Orion Leavy, 15, of St. Petersburg will oversee a community planting of 700 trees at Largo Central Park Nature Preserve on Saturday, July 19. At left, Riley Browne, 11, of Largo is pictured at Mildred Helms Elementary School, where she will kick off a year-long project to distribute 1,000 trees to city residents. She will plant 10 trees at the school Friday, July 18.
LARGO – As of this week, Largo’s tree count is set to increase by 1,700 trees.

Aspiring Eagle Scout Orion Leavy, 15, of St. Petersburg and Mildred Helms Elementary graduate Riley Browne, 11, of Largo have taken on separate projects with similar missions: planting hundreds of trees to beautify and add more green to Largo’s landscape.

Orion’s objective is to organize enough volunteers to plant 700 trees at Largo Central Park Nature Preserve in one day, on Saturday, July 19. If there’s enough manpower, he’ll add the shell path city officials have envisioned through the area populated by the new trees.

Over the next year, Riley’s goal is to distribute 1,000 trees for city residents to plant in their own yards, and help plant their new tree if they need assistance. Her project will kick off by planting 10 trees at her alma mater Friday, July 18.

The trees for both projects will come from the city’s tree fund, which businesses and developers pay into when trees are cut down for new construction projects. Parks supervisor Greg Brown said the city is always looking for volunteers to plant the new trees as his own staff has other duties and responsibilities. Even at a count like 1,700, there were plenty of trees to go around.

“There are absolutely (enough) tree funds,” he said.

A call for volunteers

Orion is still recruiting volunteers to help plant trees for the event this Saturday, which he’s organizing as his Eagle Scout service project.

“This is a lot. He’s going to need lots of help,” Brown said.

The tree planting will start at 9 a.m. at Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, 150 Highland Ave. Participants should bring shovels, gloves and sun protection. Refreshments and snacks will be provided.

Orion and volunteers will be planting bald cypress, red maple, river birch, mulberry and sycamores in three sections at the front of the nature preserve.

Initially, Orion hadn’t thought he could plant quite so many trees so quickly. However, along with his fellow Boy Scouts, volunteers from Everest University, the Order of the Arrow Osceola Chapter, Pinellas County master gardeners, Walmart and the Friends of Largo Nature Parks are scheduled to participate.

“I hope I can lead everything well. There’s going to be several groups out here just spread out across the whole space, planting trees,” he said as he surveyed the space July 11.

Orion said he would recruit two other people to help him supervise the groups, “to make sure they’re planting the trees correctly and in the right places.”

There isn’t a firm count on how many volunteers have already committed to coming.

“You don’t know until they all show up,” said Orion’s mother, Tamara Leavy. “They’re hoping between 50 and 100, at least. That’s the goal.”

Along with new leadership skills, part of Orion’s own learning curve will include how to plant the different types of trees. So far, the project has been a lot of paperwork and communicating between parties, he said.

“Since it’s summer, it’s taking up a lot of my free time,” Orion said.

During the school year, Orion plays double bass in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts orchestra at Gibbs High School. Orchestra rehearsals and performances and Boy Scouts are the primary consumers of his free time, making the summer – off-season for orchestra – a good time to tackle his Eagle Scout project.

Orion started as a Cub Scout in first grade and has been with Troop 340 almost since the beginning. His two younger brothers, Apollo and Kai, also are moving up the Scouting ranks behind him.

Tamara Leavy said her own experience as a Girl Scout promoted her to involve her three sons in the equivalent organization. Orion’s troop is a good social outlet as well.

“Some of them are like brothers,” Tamara said. “They spend a lot of time outside of Scouts together also.”

If he has enough volunteers on Saturday, Orion hopes he can add another aspect to his Eagle Scout project.

“If we have time at the end, they’re going to start the shell walkway,” he said.

The walkway the city envisions will lead visitors from the parking lot, to the preserve’s butterfly garden, through the new trees and back.

Nobel inspiration

Riley’s inspiration for her project came after reading about environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her efforts to plant trees in Kenya. One of the suggested assignments in her fifth grade class that day was to write a “letter to the mayor.” Riley noted the quotation marks.

“I wrote what I was going to write, and then I walked up to my teacher and I said, ‘I kind of want to write an actual letter to the mayor,’” Riley explained.

Her teacher, Susan Russell, was happy to help her with the project, though she cautioned her that she might not get a response back. Riley decided that was OK.

“I have my mind set on organizing a ‘Plant a Thousand Trees Day’ event,” she wrote in a letter to Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, dated April 25. “With your help, I’d like to gather up volunteers throughout Largo to help get this accomplished.”

The mayor forwarded the letter to the parks division, and Brown contacted her. The city would provide the trees, he said, if Riley helped them find city residents who would plant them in their yards through a website. It is a model the city has successfully used to distribute trees in the past.

On a website that Riley and her mother Angela Browne designed and put together, residents will be able to learn about the program and sign up for a tree, choosing from several different types. The trees will be ordered as requested and available for pickup on a date to be determined in January. Riley will schedule a second round of tree giveaways in July 2015, thus completing her goal of planting 1,000 trees in a year.

Riley also has been charged with organizing a group of friends and family who will be available to help residents who are unable to plant the tree on their own.

At the kickoff event Friday, July 18, 9 a.m., Riley and her family, along with representatives from the school, will plant 10 crape myrtles on the campus of Mildred Helms Elementary School. The mayor is scheduled to attend and meet Riley.

“I hope I’m able to inspire other people,” Riley said of her project.

Check for updates on Riley’s project at rileys1000trees.wix.com/rileys1000trees.
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