Community Effort Restores Gaylord’s Trees 1 Year After Tornado

Volunteers install trees along a yard edge in a Gaylord neighborhood impacted by the May 2022 tornado.

Community groups and more than 100 volunteers came together the morning of May 19 to plant trees in yards and public spaces across Gaylord, one day short of the anniversary of a powerful EF-3 tornado which struck the Alpine Village a year ago.

Partners from Huron Pines, Huron Pines AmeriCorps, Otsego Community Foundation, Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group, the City of Gaylord, ReLeaf Michigan and the DTE Foundation organized the tree planting and coordinated volunteers for the effort which resulted in 110 trees being installed on private and public property. Another 30 trees and shrubs were given to landowners who were impacted by the tornado but live just outside the city limits.

The collaborative project restores the city’s tree canopy, increases climate resiliency, and adds shade and beauty to public spaces and the homes of residents impacted by the May 20, 2022 tornado. It is the latest undertaking in an ongoing recovery effort and was part of a larger three-day community event marking the storm’s anniversary.

Erin Mann is Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group which has been providing support and services to affected individuals and families for the past year. She said the aftermath of the tornado left people disoriented by the drastic change in their landscape and stripped away memories that residents associated with trees which had been planted and cared for by their parents and grandparents.

“Beyond the environmental benefits of trees, they also hold sentimental and emotional value for people,” Mann said. “The replanting of trees is a symbol of recovery and hopefulness for the future as we watch them grow. Our community is filled with kindness and volunteers engage in this process because of their desire to see Gaylord recover fully.”

Huron Pines AmeriCorps members Lilly Kelsey, Ally Audia and Hanaan Yazdi (l-r) plant a tree in the yard of Bud Palin, a survivor of the May 2022 tornado.

The tree planting served as Huron Pines AmeriCorps’ annual Russ Mawby Signature Service Project, a yearly event that tackles needs like park clean-ups, neighborhood beautification projects and trail maintenance in communities across Michigan. Ahead of the event, Huron Pines AmeriCorps members selected appropriate tree species and coordinated with property owners who were impacted by the tornado.
On planting day, all two dozen Huron Pines AmeriCorps members worked alongside volunteers in planting 70 eastern redbud, red maple, serviceberry, sugar maple and white pines at homes across the city. ReLeaf Michigan and volunteers planted another 40 trees on public property.

Lisha Ramsdell is Associate Director of Huron Pines which oversees the AmeriCorps program.

“Meeting with residents who were impacted by the tornado a year ago, and for them to see the community come together and replace their trees which were lost, has been a positive experience for all,” Ramsdell said. “Huron Pines AmeriCorps is about using our members’ expertise to meet the needs of their communities and joining forces with others in the common goal of helping their neighbors.”

Bud Palin, a survivor of the May 2022 tornado, reflects on the storm as volunteers plant new trees in his yard.

Bud Palin is one of those residents who had trees installed on his property during Saturday’s event. The storm severely damaged his home and destroyed more than two dozen spruce trees he had planted in his yard with his daughters five decades ago. Photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the tornado show Palin’s home buried in a mass of tangled tree limbs and splintered trunks.

He watched Saturday morning as a crew of volunteers descended upon his property to plant 8-foot sugar maples on his property and those of his neighbors, restoring some of the tree cover he had lost.

“This is marvelous,” Palin said, gazing out over his freshly planted trees. “All the community support after the tornado has been just amazing. It reaffirms my belief there are a lot of good people in this world.”

Project funders include DTE Energy Foundation, Michigan Community Service Commission, Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society, Rotary Club of Gaylord and the Tornado Response Fund at Otsego Community Foundation.

Some of the volunteers who aassembled at the Pavilion on Court in Gaylord before dispersing across town to install trees at homes and parks May 19.

Dana Bensinger is Executive Director of Otsego Community Foundation (OCF). She said the Tornado Response Fund, which was initially used to provide emergency shelter and home repairs in the immediate aftermath of the storm, has transitioned to supporting long term recovery projects like this one.

“This fund was established to provide a centralized opportunity for donors to invest in disaster relief efforts and to accelerate recovery toward a thriving, resilient and even stronger Gaylord,” Bensinger said.

Mayor Todd Sharrard addressed the day’s volunteers as they gathered under the pavilion that morning, thanking them for their efforts to help Gaylord continue to heal.

“This event is just another example of our community coming together to replace what the tornado took from them,” Sharrard said. “Planting trees is another step back to normalcy for many. May the anniversary of the historic tornado serve as a reminder of our community’s resilience.”

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