published Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Replanting trees in Ringgold after the tornadoes aids community healing

Uprooted trees rest against a Ringgold, Ga., house following the April 27 tornado.
Uprooted trees rest against a Ringgold, Ga., house following the April 27 tornado.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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More than 300 varieties of maples, dogwoods and redbuds soon will take root in the tornado-ravaged Ringgold, Ga., area.

Today the saplings sit in seven-gallon buckets stored at the Barn Nursery in Chattanooga. They will be hauled across the state line to be planted at homes, businesses and schools on Thursday -- the six-month anniversary of the storm.

"It's a constructive community effort to heal," said David Dunn, a local attorney who is organizing Trees for Ringgold.

Trees for Ringgold, a collection of business and community leaders, is among several groups that have focused on replenishing some of the thousands of trees ripped from the ground or split in half by the massive tornadoes.

Another group, the Georgia Urban Forest Council, plans to plant trees in public parks and around schools in both Trenton and Ringgold, said Rusty Lee, the council's president.

"Obviously getting people housed is more important than putting trees in the ground," Dunn said. "But that's already happening. We're complementing that."

The EF4 tornado that plowed through Ringgold killed eight residents, destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in Catoosa County.

Over the last six months, the dilapidated silhouettes of restaurants have slowly gotten replaced on Alabama Highway. New homes are popping up in several Ringgold subdivisions, and students have returned to remodeled high and middle schools.

But the landscape of the once-quaint Georgia town still looks like a bushhog plowed through the area.

The tree replanting effort is another way the community can restore the town to what it was, officials said.

"Those guys are doing such a great job," said Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright. "This is a good town. Folks care about their neighbors."

Replacing the trees also will restore the ecosystem in these now barren areas, Lee said. Most people don't realize the amount of cooling that massive canopy trees bring to an area until they're gone, he said.

Trees are costly to replace and most homeowners don't have the money to buy new landscaping, group leaders said.

"[Residents'] insurance is building their house or it's coming out of pocket and trees are one of the last things that can be replaced," said Joy Thornton, a local resident who is heading up volunteer efforts for Trees for Ringgold.

Volunteers plan to plant more than 300 trees at about 240 homes, both Ringgold Middle and High schools and at several businesses in the community on Thursday and Friday.

More than 200 hundred volunteers, many coming from local hardware stores, will split up into groups to replant. Each group will have a tree expert sent from the Georgia Urban Forest Council, Thornton said.

This week's project is the first of several being funded with more than $10,000 raised through a benefit concert and other donations, Dunn said.

The Georgia Urban Forest Council also plans to raise money to donate to both Ringgold and Trenton for public projects later in the year, Lee said. The council has chosen five or six types of oaks and maples that local officials can pick from to plant across the town in public areas.

The council's hope is to replace some of the gorgeous 100-year-old canopy trees to help restore the town's beauty and provide shade for the public to enjoy, Lee said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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