- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 18, 2004

Sweating through an 89-degree early splash of summer, more than 150 volunteers — mostly youngsters, but a few oldsters, too — planted hundreds of seedlings yesterday along the muddy Anacostia River next to an RFK Stadium parking lot.

The volunteers were participating in the annual National Youth Service Day, which focused this year on the nonprofit Casey Trees Endowment’s continuing effort to restore Washington’s “City of Trees” nickname.

The new trees will help clean city air and keep pollutants out of the Anacostia — one of the three most contaminated tributaries emptying into the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay, said Doug Siglin, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We are most interested in restoring the Anacostia and getting it back to its natural health,” Mr. Siglin said.

Rainwater running off parking lots, paved streets and other waterproof metropolitan surfaces carries oil, grease, debris and contaminants into sewers and from there into the river. With new trees on the riverbank, though, storm water soaks into the ground and is filtered before seeping into the river, said Sean Gustafson, spokesman for the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps.

The modern blacktop and concrete are like cellophane stretched over the earth, said Casey Trees Executive Director James Lyons. “What we’re doing here is poking holes in that Saran Wrap.”

With rocks, bricks, concrete and even golf-club heads buried under the surface, shovels were inadequate. Pickaxes were used to punch holes for the saplings.

Before some of the younger workers began digging, they gathered in a circle and sang: “Leaves, branches, trunks and roots; birds, squirrels and bugs, here is home.”

Leading the song were Lindsay Jones, 19, of Atlanta and Kelly Goff, 20, of Eureka, Calif., who were among millions of young Americans working on community projects for the 16th annual National Youth Service Day.

“Bird life is coming back,” said Peter Vankevich, 50, a Library of Congress employee who lives with his wife and sons in the Kingman Park community across the parking lot from the Anacostia tree buffer area.

He pointed to the geese, sea gulls and ducks as they swam in the muddy water, walked on the low-tide swamp or flew to a landing nearby.

The tree planting was one of 100 projects in the District carried out by 15- to 18-year-olds for Serve D.C., said Deborah Gist, 37, from Northeast. Nineteen Horton’s Kids, fifth-graders through high school, came with 13 adult mentors and teachers.

Not all of the participants yesterday were teenagers: Hans Moennig, who lives on Capitol Hill, is 62. Drops of sweat formed on his bald head and ran down his face into his T-shirt as he masterfully pounded a pickaxe into the ground to open a hole for a 12-foot sapling.

“I like Casey Trees,” Mr. Moennig said. The organization was created in May 2001 by a $50 million grant from the Eugene B. Casey Foundation.

“We’re using trees to build communities,” said Mr. Lyons, explaining that the poorest communities have fewest trees. By Arbor Day on April 30, Casey expects to have planted 1,000 trees in the past year.

“If we work together, we can accomplish that — to restore the City of Trees back into the City of Trees,” Mr. Lyons said.

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