Leaving a mark: Volunteers help plant 1,000 trees in Ripley

Larry Piegza, president of SmartEvals in Buffalo, helped spearhead the project, aided by a $50,000 grant from New York state.

RIPLEY — Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” isn’t the only one who speaks for the trees.

Just before Arbor Day, a group of volunteers including master gardeners and Boy Scouts led by Larry Piegza, president of SmartEvals LLC in Buffalo, planted 1,000 trees along Route 5 in Ripley.

The trees were planted as part of a reforestation project in a former agricultural field along Lake Road. The project continues a longtime commitment to environmental stewardship by Piegza, a former Eagle Scout and member of the National Wildlife Federation’s Presidents’ Council.

Piegza received a $50,000 grant from New York state to aid with the project. The grant covers the cost of planting and watering the trees. Three SmartEvals employees made personal donations to purchase 660 of the trees and the company paid for the rest.

All of the seedlings were purchased from the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Photos by David Prenatt Pictured are a few of the volunteers who helped plant 1,000 trees on a former cornfield along Route 5 in the town of Ripley. The trees were planted as part of a reforestation project.

Piegza purchased 32 acres along Route 5 which, until now, had been farmed for corn. He noted that the farmer who sold him the land agreed to mow between the rows of trees in the summer. He will also place a water tank on the property for the purpose of watering the trees.

The project received approval of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Chautauqua Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation.

Piegza said 10 species of trees were planted Saturday. They are balsam fir, eastern white pine, American hazelnut, American mountain ash, black cherry, paw paw, red maple, sugar maple, red osler dogwood and serviceberry.

“Within five years, this entire field is going to be treed,” Piegza said.

Next year, the plan is to plant 4,000 more trees, he said.

Piegza said about 40 volunteers helped to plant the trees, including members of a Boy Scout troop, three master gardeners from Chautauqua County and members of two Chautauqua area 4-H clubs.

Piegza said he has long been committed to fighting climate change and preserving and protecting lands for wildlife. He joined the National Wildlife Federation after hearing of its program, “Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre,” that helps in negotiations between federal land managers and ranchers to retire livestock grazing allotments on public lands. Piegza took part in acquisitions of grazing land in Utah, Idaho and other western states.

“When COVID hit, we said let’s work a little closer to home,” Piegza said. “We need to have a lot of victories if we are going to fight climate change. We need normal humans to do their best.”

Species extinction is accelerating because wildlife habitats are vanishing due to human encroachment, Piegza said.

“If we got everyone to plant $50 worth of flowers and plants in their backyard that are bee and butterfly friendly, it will go a long way,” Piegza said. “It’s got to be you and me. Everybody are stewards of the land. We can’t sit back and wait for out government. It’s going to take a lot of victories.”

Piegza said he was encouraged by the work of those who came to help plant the trees.

“Forty people planted 1,000 trees in five hours,” he said. “I really think there are a lot of people who are willing to help out.”

Next year, even more volunteers will be needed, Piegza said. Also, he is looking for volunteers to mow between the trees and to water them throughout this critical first year.

Anyone interested in becoming involved with this project can contact Piegza or Jane Schmidt at 716-598-2484.


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