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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Mark McKnight, president and CEO of Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, looks at some of the trees available as part of the Growing Resilient Neighborhoods project on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, at the center.

Note: The Nature Center is not currently distributing trees but the center will announce when trees are available.

A partnership between the city of Chattanooga and Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center will continue to provide free trees to area residents.

The Chattanooga City Council passed a measure Tuesday evening providing $20,000 in funding for the Growing Resilient Neighborhoods program through the end of the year.

Trees can help drive down residents' air-conditioning costs and increase property values, said Mark McKnight, president and CEO of Reflection Riding.

The trees also play a crucial role in reducing the burden placed on engineered stormwater systems. The program has distributed 1,000 trees so far, and McKnight estimates those trees have kept 7,600 gallons of water from entering the city's stormwater system.

"You can literally have smaller stormwater pipes if you have more green infrastructure doing the work for you," McKnight said in a phone call with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The resolution, passed unanimously by the council, provides $20,000 to the nature center to operate the program.

The program, envisioned before the COVID-19 pandemic, was catalyzed in the wake of the Easter 2020 tornadoes that hit communities across the Southeast, killing 10 people in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. The native trees were intended to rebuild the tree canopy lost in the storm, but the program's aspirations grew to all residents of the city in an effort to improve water quality.

During the last cycle of tree distribution, the nature center gave out disease-resistant dogwood, pawpaws and several oak varieties. McKnight said 10 new, native species will be available this cycle. The nature center has a matrix to help people decide which tree is best for them based on needs and the landscape.

Native plants are resilient to the local environment and provide needed biodiversity, McKnight said, offering a reminder to people who think they do not have a green thumb.

"Native plants evolved to be in this region and to deal with the climate that we have here, which is cycles of drought and tons of rain," he said. "And so the best thing, if you're intimidated at all by gardening or planting plants, you're going to want the native plants that we offer."

The group also plans to hold community education events and partner with local nonprofits to ensure all neighborhoods are aware of the program, McKnight said.

According to the city's website for the program, city residents are eligible to request a tree, with properties in a designated tornado-affected zone eligible for four free trees and properties outside the zone eligible for two.

People can pick up their trees at the nature center's nursery, located at 400 Garden Road, during its normal business hours, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

For more information about the program, visit chattanooga.gov/waterquality or reflectionriding.org.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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