Arbour Day volunteers help out at Waskesiu

Matt Gardner
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Planting trees proved a highly popular activity this weekend both in Prince Albert and beyond.

While Saturday saw volunteers helping plant trees outside the local SPCA shelter, Sunday saw a legion of helpers join staff members at Prince Albert National Park to help plant trees around Waskesiu.

But where the former was a unique episode, the latter constitutes a long-running tradition in Waskesiu, where Arbour Day is celebrated annually on the Sunday of every Labour Day weekend.

“It’s our big town site volunteer day, just to bring local residents and park visitors together with park staff and kind of make Waskesiu a little more beautiful,” park vegetation ecologist Dustin Guedo said.

Besides planting new trees, volunteers helped remove dead trees or older ones that have fallen over.

Trees in the Waskesiu town site are primarily white spruce, with the majority being fairly old.

While many of the trees are coming to the end of their life, strong winds and storms have caused more and more to start coming down -- a trend that bolsters the need for a new generation of trees to replace them.

“As these bigger ones are slowly removed from the town site, we’ll have more and more younger trees to come up,” Guedo said.

Another major goal of the park is to create a mixed wood community of trees.

Currently, white spruce and balsam poplar predominate. The aim of park staff is to bring in a wide variety of boreal trees such as white birch, trembling aspen, tamarack and jack pine to create what Guedo called a “mosaic of trees.”

The vegetation ecologist pointed to two benefits of having a more varied selection of trees.

The first relates to purely aesthetic considerations.

“In the falltime, we’re going to get all sorts of different colours,” Guedo noted. “You have a mixture of deciduous leaves, of leaves and conifer needle trees. It creates a much better aesthetic look.”

The second relates to the health of the trees -- particularly during periods characterized by disease or insect outbreaks.

“If you have just one type of tree and if some insects come in or a disease hits just that one type of tree and that’s all you have, then everything will be affected -- where if you have a mosaic of different trees … they usually respond differently,” Guedo said.

To help ensure the survival of the new trees, park staff took a different approach to planting this year.

In the past, they would plant trees en masse and surround all of them with a rail fence in order to keep away elk and deer, who have a tendency to eat and kill all the young trees except for white spruce and balsam poplar (a prime reason why those two species of trees predominate at the town site).

By contrast, this year they planted the trees over a larger area near the P.A. National Park Visitor Centre and put individual fences around each tree.

“We’ll leave those individual fences on those trees for five-plus years, just so that those trees can establish (themselves and) grow big enough -- so when we take the fence away from them, they’ll be strong enough to withstand any browsing from elk or deer,” Guedo said.

Dozens of volunteers could be seen on Sunday morning planting trees near the Waskesiu Visitor Centre or helping remove old and dead trees to improve the growth of younger ones.

One longtime volunteer was Chris Arnstead, who comes to help out at Arbour Day every year.

“It’s always on the long weekend, and it’s a great opportunity for us to come and interact with other people in the community,” Arnstead said.

“What I really enjoy about is that there’s all ages of people here,” she added. “You see the very littlest child being shown how important volunteering is by their parents, and then you have the older people that have been volunteering here all their lives and they’re still coming out. So the mixture of ages makes it really enjoyable.”

With the new trees planted, park staff will carefully monitor them over the next month to ensure they get plenty of water while making sure the fences around each tree stay up.

“For the most part, all the work has been done by the community, by the volunteers today,” Guedo said.

“They’ve done a really good job and it looks like everything is nice and sound.”

Organizations: P.A. National Park Visitor Centre, Waskesiu Visitor Centre

Geographic location: Waskesiu, Prince Albert National Park

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