Gift of Green completes planting in a single day

The Kenai Peninsula is a greener place today thanks to Kelsie Leaf and her Caring for the Kenai (CFK) winning idea this year.  After taking 1st Place honors at the CFK oral presentations this spring Kelsie was invited by the City of Kenai All America City committee to travel with the team to Kansas City to tell about her CFK project in their presentation to win a 2011 All America City Award.  Team Kenai agreed that Kelsie was an integral part of the City’s winning presentation said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter.  “Anyone who has heard Kelsie sing would agree that she is a talented young woman, but that she cared about her community enough to organize the Gift of Green project impressed all the cities from across the country that gathered to compete in Kansas City,” said Porter.

It was no easy undertaking for a high school student to coordinate the government agencies involved with funding and re-foresting 35 some acres, secure the more than seven thousand native spruce trees necessary for the task, then organize a team of volunteers to accomplish the task.  After calling all her school friends and families and making personal requests at Kenai and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club meetings Kelsie admitted she was a little nervous, having to change the dates and location of the project twice in as many weeks, “I was expecting less than thirty volunteers.  More than seventy showed up throughout the day.  I thought we would be pushing to complete the project in two full days of work.  Instead, we finished planting in five hours.  Approximately seventy-six volunteers of all ages planted 7,000 white spruce seedlings in five hours,” said Kelsie.

The Spruce Bark Beetle Task Force played a key role in assisting Leaf in her CFK project, “We felt privileged to be able help Kelsie with her idea.  We are planting about 500,000 trees across the Peninsula this summer, but this was  the most visible and certainly the most community involvement of any of the planting we have done and it was great to see,” said Michael Fastabend, project coordinator for the Borough’s Spruce Bark Beetle Task Force.  According to Wade Wahrenbrock, also with the KPB Bark Beetle Task Force the location for Leaf’s project was a specially selected area, “This is City of Kenai land and the beetle killed trees were removed about ten years ago and the stand was not successful in natural regeneration so a lot of grass grew up in this particular area which has become a real wild fire hazard during the early part of the year, so by planting these trees we will be able to naturally shade out that grass and reduce the fire danger risk to the local community plus have a green healthy forest,” explained Wahrenbrock.

Leaf’s original idea was simply to replace the forest that had been cleared for the construction of the Wal-Mart store, “The fire mitigation was something I just learned about today, but then this has been such a learning experience and I’ve met so many wonderful members of our community by seeing it through.  Ferdinand Dominic the manager of Wal-Mart was great and donated three six-feet sub sandwiches, potato salad, and chips for lunch.  He even came out with his son and planted trees and by the end of the day, there was nothing left but a cup of potato salad.  We started planting on Friday morning at 10:00.  Around 2:00pm, volunteers were having trouble finding any sections of forest that had not already been planted.  By 2:45pm, I was pulling people out of the woods.  The job was completed and we were all amazed.  The sun shone on us the entire time we were planting, but just a few hours after we left the site, the rain began to fall.  Even Mother Nature volunteered a helping hand and the Gift of Green was a tremendous success.  I feel blessed to have participated in Caring for our Kenai with so many other wonderful community members and we are all fortunate to have Chevron and Tesoro sponsor this community program every year,” said Leaf.