A grass-covered lot is being transformed into a leafy grove through the efforts of the Greenville Public Works Department and a group dedicated to planting trees in the city.

Students with Pitt Academy joined city workers on Thursday for Community Tree Day, an event started 10 years ago to involve citizens in expanding the city’s tree canopy.

The event was canceled last year when people were ordered to stay home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kevin Heifferon, Greenville’s assistant public works director, and members of ReLeaf were determined to hold an event this year within the confines of the state’s social distancing guidelines.

The city and ReLeaf didn’t want to lose the community connection for a second year, Heifferon said.

“Even though it is not a full-blown community tree event with dozens of people here, we wanted to continue the event this year,” he said.

“Rather than the community giving back to us as in past Community Tree Days we thought it would be good to give back to the community with our staff since we can’t have the public here,” Heifferon said.

Sixty trees — a combination of holly, redbud, dogwood, willows, oak, bald cypress, river birch and maple — were planted on one acre at the intersection of West 14th Avenue and the 10th Street Connector to create a grove, he said.

“This corner was in such need of beauty following the opening of the connector in 2019,” Heifferon said. “This area wasn’t identified for improvement so we took it upon ourselves.”

When the city and the North Carolina Department of Transportation struck a deal to build the connector the city agreed to maintain the landscaping, he said. The corner lot, which is in front of the campus of Sadie Saulter, is owned by the state but the city will maintain the trees.

A number of the trees were purchased with donations given to ReLeaf in memory of Ken Wilson, an East Carolina University professor of sociology who was active in the community had loved the idea of doing grove plantings, Heifferon said.

“Anytime you can plant as many varieties as possible it’s better,” he said. It reduces the risk of disease spreading among a single-variety planting, forcing them to be cut.

“This site is a little wet and the trees we selected can tolerate the conditions and just flourish and thrive at this location,” Heifferon said.

ReLeaf has raised money to purchase trees that are planted throughout the city in an effort to reduce their disappearance along streets, increase their use in parking lots and landscaping and educate the community about the value of trees.

Heifferon estimates when the current year ends, ReLeaf will have donated about 3,000 trees to the city in a 32-year period. It costs between $2,000 to $3,000 to do a planting like the one undertaken on Wednesday.

“It’s a way to say trees are important and it reminds these children and the community there is a large group of people in town who value nature and value the tree system in terms of its cooling and moderating the temperature around buildings,” said Alice Arnold, co-chairwoman of ReLeaf’s Arbor Day celebration which is scheduled for April 30.

While the bulk of the trees were planted by city staff, the students of Pitt Academy, Pitt County Schools’ alternative program, received a presentation on proper tree planting and then planted and mulched three red maples that will stand along the school’s parking lot.

Mike Lutz, the academy’s administrator, said he welcomes any opportunity that helps his students understand the relationship between people and nature.

“It’s really going to bring in some life and this area is going to get so much more beautiful,” Lutz said. “We are going to have some ownership. That’s the nice part for the kids.”

Heifferon said there are plans to remove the chain-link fence that currently surrounds the parking lot. With the trees now in place, that corner will become the school’s front yard.

“Over the years (six to nine), as these trees get big, some of these trees will provide shading for some of the cars and make people feel better about getting in them. It will lower the temperature of the parking lot,” Heifferon said. “I hope it creates almost a park setting.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.