April 18, 2022

Chair Kafoury plants trees with Davis Elementary students.
The Davis Elementary playground grows uncomfortably hot on sunny days as pavement around the Rockwood school collects and radiates heat.

But that began to change Thursday, April 14, when Chair Deborah Kafoury led a tree-planting party in the schoolyard.

With shouts and shovels, nearly 70 fourth-graders gathered around sturdy saplings of scarlet oak, white oak, alder, red-leafed maple and two sequoias.

“Sequoia? That is my favorite tree,’’ said a fourth-grader named Joshua.

“Well in 20 or 30 years, you can come back here and say you did this,’’ Chair Kafoury told him. 

The Chair joined the students as they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, an international holiday dedicated to tree planting. The students also learned about leaves and buds, branching systems and tree rings.

Less obvious lessons were the extent to which trees clean the air, filter water and combat the heat island effect. The heat island effect occurs when temperatures can be as much as 10 degrees higher in urban areas that lack trees and their protective shade.

The climate crisis is one of the leading reasons the County has been working to reduce heat islands by increasing the number of trees, especially in East County. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Conservation District, led by Executive Director Nancy Hamilton, the County has, with Friends of Trees, already planted 400 trees in East County.

In March, Commissioner Lori Stegmann also joined County staff, Friends of Trees and the City of Gresham in planting nearly 70 trees in a densely developed area around the East County Courthouse at 18480 S.E. Stark St. 

The partners plan to plant another 100 trees in the coming months, said John Wasiutynski, director of Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability.

Chair Kafoury and students counted tree rings on "tree cookies.''

At Davis Elementary School in Rockwood, the partners worked with Principal Ashley Davis and the Reynolds School District groundskeeper, to identify locations on the school’s property where trees could provide critical shade. The presence of trees also has been shown to reduce stress and encourage physical activity.

On the day of the planting, Friends of Trees staff and volunteers worked while surrounded by students, showing them how to measure and dig a proper-size hole, cut away the protective burlap from a root ball, and plant the trees.

“That is going to need some water,’’ one girl advised the staffer.

“Yep,” he said, as spring rain clouds threatened overhead.

In between examining earthworms, learning about mulch and getting a bit muddy, students learned how to count tree rings and practice tree yoga. 

 The City of Gresham also joined in sharing the Gresham City Council’s proclamation declaring April as Arbor Month. (Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday in April but is celebrated all month.)

Chair Kafoury told students that while Arbor Day isn’t a school holiday, it is still an important one because:

  • Trees give birds and other animals homes and food. 
  • Trees don’t just make oxygen that we need to breathe, but they clean the air, too.
  • Trees are beautiful, and they provide shade to keep us cool during the hot summer. 
  • And we need our trees to be healthy and strong, so that we can be healthy and strong. 

The March 19, 2022 tree planting in Gresham is part of the County's ongoing efforts. Here are some images of that event: 

Commissioner Lori Stegmann joins Friends of the Trees and city of Gresham at a March 19 tree planting.

Friends of the Trees volunteers and staff join County, Gresham officials at the March 19 tree planting near the East County Courthouse..