It's hard to escape physical reminders of the damage wrought by the death-dealing tornados here last April. While most of the rubble finally has been removed, there are locales where debris remains, a constant reminder of lives lost and forever changed and where empty lots are poignant reminders of where homes, neighborhoods and businesses once stood. The return to a more familiar topography and to at least a sense of normalcy is slow in coming, but signs that change is on the way are especially welcome.
In some neighborhoods, for example, destroyed homes have been replaced and damaged ones repaired. In some places, commercial and industrial properties have been restored or rebuilt. Infrastructure repair in most places is complete or almost so. Now attention is turning to rejuvenating and restoring the landscape -- especially the trees that were a hallmark of the region.
The loss of trees in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama was significant. Replacing them is a long-term project that should wait until those displaced by the storms have places to live, that those whose jobs were lost as a result of tornado return to work and until all vital infrastructure repairs are made. In many places, that time has arrived.
In Chattanooga, for example, a tree planting initiative will get underway on Arbor Day, March 2. at the John A. Patten Center in Lookout Valley, an area especially hard-hit during the April storms. Some trees will be planted that day, but the celebration also will serve as a kick-off for more extended projects. Significant funding from the Tennessee Department of Economic Development and a thoughtful grant from Volkswagen will underwrite many of the projects in the city's on-going tree-planting campaign.
There are other tree-replacement programs in the works as well. Community and neighborhood garden clubs and other groups are working alone or in partnerships to plant a variety of trees. In some communities, the desire to replant is strong, but the pressure to clean up and to restore and rebuild, coupled with a lack of funding has but temporarily delayed the effort. In others the work moves forward.
In Alabama, for instance, the state's Forestry Commission and the Arbor Day Foundation have united to create a large-scale, three-year program to restore trees across the state. Four communities in Northeast Alabama -- Ider, Fyffe, Lakeview and Shiloh -- are included the initial stage of the program. All four will receive trees this month. The distribution of dogwoods, oaks and other trees fills a need.
As one resident put it, "Losing my home in the tornado was terrible, but losing all the trees in my yard was so much worse ... I'm thankful that I've been able to fix my house, but there is no way to replace 300-year-old oak trees."
She's correct, of course, but tree-planting programs in tornado-ravaged states hold the promise that future generations will be able to enjoy trees and experience the many environmental, economic and social benefits they provide.