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Blanco River Reforestation Project plants life into what was lost

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Photo by: Alyssa Dugan-Rodriguez | Staff Photographer
The Blanco River Reforestation Project is a part of TreeFolks' Reforestation program to restore forests that are damaged in natural disasters in Central Texas.

TreeFolks, an Austin-based nonprofit organization, is working to rehabilitate the Hays County environment following the historic May and October floods that ravaged Central Texas last year.

County officials and TreeFolks established the Blanco River Reforestation Project to help restore the riverside life lost during the floods.

Thaïs Perkins, executive director of TreeFolks, said the project will consist of a four-year effort to plant trees for free. The project will offer free public service to private landowners whose property was directly affected by the floods.

The Memorial Day weekend flood affected the health of the Blanco River as well as the lives of those nearby. The river lost its shade, the wildlife lost their habitat and people lost their homes.

“It damaged the environment and damaged personal life,” Perkins said.

TreeFolks’ mission is to bring change by empowering communities through the planting and caring of trees. Established in 1989, the organization has planted 1.6 million trees in Central Texas through the efforts of volunteers and staff.

The project started off with the planting 900 seedlings at the Five-Mile Dam in San Marcos. Volunteers and staff were able to lend a helping hand in bringing beauty to the riverbanks. Their goal is to reforest 60 miles of the Blanco River.

Perkins said the restoration of the Blanco River riparian forest will be a slow, but beautiful process.

“A functioning riparian forest is a continuous forest that filters storm water, shades the river, slows the speed of floods and provides habitat,” Perkins said.

Planting tree life in an area that experienced complete destruction is a baby step to recovery, she said. It is a beautiful thing to see the growth of life sprout up physically and emotionally in the lives of the Hays and Blanco County residents.

“We are helping to heal the lands, and helping to heal their hearts,” Perkins said.

Hays County reached out to propose a similar model of TreeFolks’ role in the Bastrop County Community Reforestation Program to reforest property burned in the fire during Labor Day weekend of 2010.

The Blanco River Reforestation Project aims to benefit all that was lost during the floods.

TreeFolks has already received 200 applications from property owners requesting help. It is first come, first serve. Volunteers will speak with applicants to discuss what needs the landowner is looking for, prepare a site plan and provide education on reforestation succession.

“I’m really impressed by the general knowledge people have towards the river’s health,” Perkins said.

Prior to the floods, Cypress trees were among the tree species along the banks of the Blanco River. The floods knocked some of the oldest Cypress trees down.

Miranda Wait, assistant manager at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, said the project is a great start to recovery, but it is going to take a while to get back to the way it was. The Meadows Center is a laboratory located on Spring Lake where departments and research centers engage in environmental studies to provide practical opportunities to faculty, staff and students.

“Some of the cypress trees were up to 300 years old,” Wait said.

The cypress trees brought historical value to San Marcos in their old age. Wait said some were left there because they had a chance to regrow. The floods only added more detail to a surviving trees’ story.

Hays County approved a contract with TreeFolks for the pilot program that will ultimately launch into the official four-year program this fall.

TreeFolks is raising funds to pay for the large number of trees for the project. Anyone can donate if interested.