Oregon’s rainy season begins in earnest in November, which also means it’s the start of the Friends of Trees planting season.
The Portland-based tree planting program has established more than half a million trees and native plants since it began in 1989. In recent years, the organization has branched out (pardon the pun) to Vancouver, Salem and Eugene-Springfield.
On this early March day, high school senior Bailey Schaecher is muddy and smiling. He attends Rosemary Anderson, an alternative school that serves at-risk youth affected by poverty, family instability and homelessness. Every Saturday, as a planting team leader, Schaecher makes the trip from Gresham, and sometimes Sandy, to whatever Portland neighborhood is scheduled to plant — rain or shine.
Friends of Trees helps homeowners and local organizations buy the trees, but it depends on volunteers and people like Schaecher to plant them. Homeowners can go to the organization’s website and sign up to purchase trees at a reduced price. Friends of Trees then comes to the property to evaluate and recommend suitable trees for that particular site. Once the trees are ordered, the homeowner becomes part of his or her neighborhood’s planting day — usually a rainy Saturday sometime between November to April.
“It’s the best time to plant trees,” said Deputy Director Whitney Dorer. “It’s when the rains come and the trees are more easily established. The soil is soft and the trees are also dormant.”
According to Dorer, the shared suffering of working in cold, dreary weather is also a great community-builder. “There’s lots of laughter, lots of mud; It creates a better bonding experience.”
In Portland, the program is partially funded by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. “They’re supporting this to help mitigate stormwater and help manage all the rain that’s coming down in the winter,” said Dorer.
Trees and other vegetation do this by slowing water’s movement, which helps runoff to soak into the soil, rather than causing erosion. Additionally, tree roots help filter rainwater and recharge groundwater reservoirs. Once mature, the trees also have measurable, significant impact on the region’s air quality.
Friends of Trees also works with local agencies on tree and shrub planting projects that restore natural areas, increase habitat, and improve overall watershed health. In addition to a couple dozen staff and more than 6,000 volunteers each year, the organization also works with the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center to create paid jobs for local teens.
Bailey Schaecher nabbed one of the paid jobs last year.
“I’ve learned to identify many native Oregon plants,” he said. He also gets hours on his resume and the chance to build his “people skills.”
“I feel like having good people skills will help me with any job that I go into,” he said.
Six months after the North Portland planting, those people skills seemed to be paying off. We ran into Schaecher running the “Friends of Trees” booth at the Alberta Street Fair. He’d graduated high school and been promoted to a job on the Friends of Trees outreach staff. Going door-to-door for the organization then got him a six-week trail-building job with Northwest Youth Corps.
Now that November is coming around again, he’ll be getting up early on rainy Saturday mornings to lead more Friends of Trees planting crews. But he doesn’t mind.
“What sells it for me and gives me the energy to get up in the morning is everybody here that volunteers and helps. Ultimately, I get a huge sense of community here,” Schaecher said.