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Large planting operation gives Omaha’s dwindling tree canopy another chance to blossom

April 29, 2018 GMT

In less than an hour Saturday morning, the Minne Lusa and Miller Park neighborhoods in north Omaha became home to 125 new trees. A couple of blocks away, more than 100 additional trees were planted in the Florence neighborhood.

After months of planning, the process of getting the trees into the ground went quickly thanks to about 150 volunteers — double the number expected by Diana Failla, the executive director of the Urban Bird and Nature Alliance.

The alliance received a $20,000 Hubbard Community Forestry Award through the Arbor Day Foundation to purchase the trees. The City of Omaha’s forestry department oversaw the planting in the neighborhoods.

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Failla said the variety of trees planted Saturday will help replace any ash trees lost to the emerald ash borer.

[ Read also: How to beat Japanese beetles and emerald ash borers this year ]

“But this goes so far beyond that and even beyond beautification,” she said, explaining that adding trees to a neighborhood can increase property values, reduce electric bills and improve air quality.

“Plus, this is about bringing a community together,” she said, gesturing at the groups of volunteers walking through the neighborhoods with shovels and bags of mulch.

Before Saturday, alliance members canvassed the area to explain the project and allow homeowners to opt out of having a tree placed in their yard or boulevard.

“Very few people opted out,” she said. Some homeowners even joined the volunteers Saturday.

With the help of a few young men from Omaha Home for Boys, Eric Rafferty planted three saplings in his yard Saturday morning.

Rafferty, 31, has lived in the Minne Lusa neighborhood for five years. “We still really fight image problems here,” he said. “So to have 150 people come out on a weekend from all over the city and actually see the neighborhoods and invest in them? That’s really something.”

Rafferty was already thinking about his three children playing under the trees and about the kids who will walk under them every day on the way to Minne Lusa Elementary.

“In any neighborhood, when you invest in beauty, it multiplies,” he said. “We have a lot to be proud of and to continue to invest in here.”