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Sprucing up Greenville one tree -- or 110 -- at a time

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Carter Morsell shovels dirt onto a small, freshly planted tree during Community Tree Day, where more than 100 trees were planted along sections of the Green Mill Run Greenway Saturday, March 18, 2017.

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Kristin Zachary

Monday, March 20, 2017

Anyone pining for a greener Greenville can rest on their laurels a bit after this weekend.

ReLeaf, a nonprofit organization, partnered up with the City of Greenville and East Carolina University on Saturday to plant 110 trees along the newest section of the Green Mill Run Greenway.

More than 100 volunteers gathered in the rain at the Blount Recreational Sports Complex off Curry Court for the start of Community Tree Day, a yearly event held by ReLeaf to promote a greener Greenville.

In its 26 years, the organization has planted more than 1,650 trees and contributed more than $229,000 to the beautification of Greenville, according to ReLeaf President Hunt McKinnon. Saturday’s event was made possible through a donation of 64 trees from Carolina Seasons Nursery and a $750 grant from the Noon Rotary Club, he said.

“What you’re doing today may seem simple. Planting some trees — that’s a really nice thing,” he told the crowd of volunteers.

“But I want you to take some pride,” McKinnon said. “Take some pride in that you’ll come back in five years, 10 years, 15 and 20 years, and people will say what an awesome setting it is with all those trees. You need to know you started that.”

A prime example of that, according to Greenville Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton, is Elm Street Park.

“The people that developed and built that park are deceased today; they’re not here,” he said. “Go down to that park any spring or summer day and see how many people are still benefitting from that. The same is true of the trees you plant along our greenway today.”

Following a welcome from McKinnon and Fenton, the volunteers branched off into groups and city workers led them to different areas of the greenway to get started.

City employee Richard Gay’s group planted a bald cypress, a dogwood and a redbud, among others, along Evans Street.

Gay has worked with the city for 29 years, with a focus on “groundwork, landscaping, digging graves, about everything they want me to do,” he said.

Several members of his group included ECU students who serve as ambassadors for the university.

“I think it’s good,” Gay said. “Young people can learn stuff while they’re young.

“Make sure the tree is straight,” he told a few of the students as they gathered around to plant the redbud.

After the tree was removed from its container and placed into the earth, Gay and Nicholas Schaut, an ECU senior from Charlotte, circled it multiple times, using a shovel and rake to fill the hole with soil.

“They make it look so easy,” said Carter Morsell, an ECU senior from High Point.

“I know,” ECU sophomore Abby Kish said with a laugh. “We’re really trying though. You can see the dedication.”

The work came easy to Schaut, an Eagle Scout who has experience in landscaping and groundskeeping.

“For me, it’s a way to give back,” Schaut said of Community Tree Day. “It paves the way for future generations.”

Kish, too, said she enjoys giving back. Though she had no tree-planting experience, a family tradition she experienced growing up included planting flowers in the spring and planting a garden each Mother’s Day.

“I’ve never planted trees before, but I’m trying,” she said. “I think it’s coming out OK.”

Yoshi Newman, a Greenville resident for three and a half years, thought it was more than OK and was excited about what the group was leaving behind on Saturday.

“Community Tree Day to me is so awesome,” she said. “It brings together so many different people. I don’t know that there’s anything more fun and rewarding than planting trees. It makes our lives better, our air better, our community better.”

Newman snapped a few posed photos of the ECU student ambassadors after they had several trees planted.

“Say green,” she instructed them.

“Green,” the group called out, with a couple members, including Morsell, striking a victory pose with shovels overhead.

Morsell, also an ECU ambassador like Kish and Schaut, said she enjoys nature and believes it is important to keep spaces beautiful, especially in cities that may not have as much green as more rural areas.

“Nick and I were talking about how Greenville is so different now from when we were freshmen,” she said of herself and Schaut. “We have this awesome extended greenway and businesses sprouting up.”

To celebrate the sprouting of Green Mill Run Greenway Phase II, the City of Greenville will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Blount Recreational Sports Complex.

Contact Kristin Zachary at kzachary@reflector.com or 252-329-9571. Follow her on Twitter @kristinzachary.

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