Friday, May 24, 2024

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ReLeaf Michigan

Photos courtesy of Releaf Michigan

The Great Lakes contain nearly 95% of all the freshwater in North America. As our average temperatures continue to increase year by year, water and shade are at a premium. Over a decade ago, Michigan was downgraded to a dryer climate zone, and our tree canopy has dwindled. The number of trees we have has a direct effect on the quality of our water, because trees absorb and filter stormwater runoff, which is full of fertilizer and pesticides that would otherwise drain directly into our watershed, the groundwater reservoir where our drinking water comes from. 

Beneficial Effects of Trees 

Trees provide exponential benefits to their communities from top to bottom; to start, tree canopies improve air quality by producing oxygen and storing carbon. According to ReLeaf Michigan, They also reduce energy usage by providing shade. The net cooling effects of a young, healthy tree are approximately the same as 10 room-sized air conditioners operating for 20 hours a day. 

Biodiversity is increased by trees, which provide food and shelter to hundreds of life forms like mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and other plants. Tree roots both stabilize the surrounding soil and absorb stormwater runoff, filtering out man-made toxins before they drain into our waterways. 

Urban areas with trees enjoy an increased residential property value of up to 37%.Tree-lined streets encourage neighborhood interactions and increase visitor spending by 10%. ReLeaf says they also correlate to reduced graffiti, crime and speeding in residential areas. 

ReLeaf Michigan is Michigan’s only statewide tree-planting nonprofit organization. They are doing the crucial work of restoring Michigan’s urban and rural tree canopies. 

I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with ReLeaf Michigan’s Executive Director Melinda Jones, who told me about their community tree plantings, the educational workshops for homeowners, and their annual, all-ages event, the Michigan Big Tree Hunt (MBTH).

Community Tree Plantings

ReLeaf Michigan has planted a whopping 30,000 trees in Michigan communities since its beginning in 1983, working with local organizations like schools, neighborhood groups and service organizations. They provide hands-on educational opportunities to learn about tree selection, placement and maintenance. The planting is done by volunteers, and ReLeaf splits the costs with the community to promote ownership. 

Community Networking

ReLeaf Michigan helped establish the Saginaw Bay Forestry Network, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds, and the Grand Traverse Bay Forestry Network to help provide technological training, educational outreach and networking opportunities. 


Businesses looking for an opportunity to interact with the local community provide additional funds through sponsorships. They receive a photo opportunity with community members surrounding a custom banner, which is printed with their logo for the event. 

Suttons Bay Planting

Educational Workshops 

ReLeaf Michigan offers educational workshops to homeowners, tailored to fit their communities’ needs. The focus is on correct pruning, tree selection for location and protection from disease.

Stormwater Retention Projects

ReLeaf Michigan partners with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and local watershed organizations who’ve received grants to “employ community forestry as a local strategy to intercept storm water, reduce runoff, and meaningfully improve water quality.” With local volunteers and community groups, they’ve planted hundreds of trees for numerous communities, including those surrounding the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed, the Great Lakes Basin and the St. Joseph River Watershed.

The Michigan Big Tree Hunt!

ReLeaf Michigan’s most popular program by far is the Michigan Big Tree Hunt! The MBTH is open to everyone and makes for a great group activity. The goal is to identify the biggest trees in the state to track our “Living Landmarks.” 

MBTH Rules:

  • Tree must be live and accessible to verify
  • Size is determined by trunk circumference
  • Must be postmarked or submitted by the end of the contest
  • Trees already listed in MBTH before the contest are not eligible

MBTH Prize Categories:

  • Largest found by 16 and over
  • Largest found by 15 and under
  • Largest white pine by anyone
  • Largest tree by county
  • Any tree as big, or bigger than the current champ

All participants are invited to the award ceremony in the fall of 2024. You can get details from their website, on ReLeaf Michigan’s Facebook page or by emailing Releaf Michigan.

Heidi Farmer
Heidi Farmer
A dedicated Community Writer specializing in politics, places, and people within Genesee County, Heidi holds an Associate of Applied Arts Degree in Electronic Communications from Delta College, and a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design with a Minor in Technical and Professional Writing from Saginaw Valley State University. Heidi's talent as an illustrator earned her the Illustrator of the Year Award during her time at Delta. She began her writing career in 2013 with the Lifestyle magazine North Midland Living. Heidi is also a versatile multimedia artist driven by a passion for expanding green spaces and promoting the planting of Native Species for ecological balance and serene human interaction.
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