To commemorate the lives lost to COVID-19 in Newton, Green Newton’s Environmental Youth Leadership Program is planting 170 trees throughout Newton and five trees on Boston College’s campus.
The project is called 4C Tree Project, which stands for capture, carbon, commemorate, and COVID-19. It was spearheaded in October by Elizabeth Sockwell, an alumna of Newton South High School and current senior at Trinity College.
“The project is basically trying to plant one tree, approximately, for every person who has passed away from COVID-19 in Newton,” Jojo Parks, who helped organize the project and CSON ’24, said.
Planting the trees will serve as a lasting memorial for the 214 people that have died from COVID-19 in Newton as of Wednesday.
“COVID-19 has impacted so many communities, but I mean Newton is our community, and it’s really taken a toll on a lot of the people here,” Parks said. “So I really thought it was a great way to create a lasting memorial and a living memorial that also beautifies our community.”
After coming to BC from New Jersey as a freshman, Parks said she wanted to get involved in local activism. The mission and values of Green Newton resonated with her, and she said she joined the Youth Leadership Program because she felt it would be meaningful.
The decision to plant trees has both practical and symbolic significance, according to Green Newton’s website.
Trees provide clean air and shade, attract wildlife, and contribute to a clean water supply, all while beautifying the city, according to Green Newton’s website. Trees also serve as a symbol of life and strength, which Green Newton said it hopes will remind the community of the preciousness of life and the environment.
“They’ll also help prevent noise and pollution in some of the spots where they’re going to be planted. And they’re also going to create a great sense of place,” Newton’s Director of Urban Forestry Marc Welch said. “It’s going to define the location and over time that will make for a great improvement to the landscape.”
Both BC and the City of Newton are assisting the group in the process of planting the trees. Welch’s staff is assisting in planting and maintaining the trees and Gina Bellavia, director of Landscape Planning and Services at BC, will be doing the same for the trees at the University. BC will also be covering the costs of the five trees planted on its campus, according to Bellavia.
The first planting will take place on Upper Campus by Tudor Rd. on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., which falls during BC’s Green Week. At this location, BC’s Landscape Planning and Services will plant three trees with the assistance of student volunteers.
The Newton trees will be planted at Newton schools and parks through the city’s Department of Forestry beginning this month.
“I am really looking forward to that first planting. I think it’s going to be really special to finally see us break ground and finally come to fruition,” Parks said. “I’m excited to just see the whole project come together because I know how hard Elizabeth has worked on this and I’ve also worked hard on it.”
The group hopes to plant 170 trees this spring and continue planting in the fall in order to reach a total of over 200 trees, Parks said. The group is also working on a virtual map so residents can easily locate the 4C trees.
One of the struggles during the early stages of the project was identifying space to plant all of these trees throughout Newton, Parks said.
Involved in both communities, Parks said she serves as the liaison between Green Newton and the University. Parks approached BC Facilities in November to discuss the possibility of planting trees on campus. This initiated Bellavia’s role in the project, she said.
“I’m so proud and impressed with all the students that have been involved in this, because, I mean, this has been such a horrific year across the board for everyone, and to have some recognition for local people that have, you know, succumb to the virus, and at least have some kind of memorial to commemorate their loved one I think is very significant,” Bellavia said. “And a nice collaborative effort between the city and BC.”
Bellavia coordinated purchasing the trees and choosing their locations and species. Parks requested beech trees to be planted on campus.
Since beech trees are large, though, Bellavia said she needed to find locations with enough space for the trees to grow over time. Bellavia also had to find a local nursery that had these trees in a decent size, she said.
Bellavia also said she focused on choosing locations on the Newton side of BC’s campus with open space for the trees to grow.
Three trees will be planted on Upper Campus, and two trees will be planted on Newton Campus by the main entrance near Centre St., according to Bellavia. Bellavia selected this location because many trees have died from disease there in the past five to seven years.
“We’ve done some removals, and this was a good opportunity to replace what we lost,” Bellavia said.
Two beech trees, a dawn redwood, a katsura tree, and a magnolia tree will be planted on campus, according to Bellavia.
“There are only a small number of katsura on our campus so I wanted to diversify the plant palette,” Bellavia said. “I didn’t want to pick maples and oaks and things that we see all the time. I want something different.”
Bellavia selected a magnolia tree to replace a beech tree that was removed in front of St. Ignatius Church. She said she chose a magnolia tree because it would not grow to block the view of the church.
While some trees on campus are marked with plaques, Bellavia said that there will not be plaques placed with the 4C trees. Bellavia said BC Facilities has not installed plaques in recent years.
“It’s difficult because then if you have a construction project or the tree dies or it becomes a little complicated because then you have a plaque that is not associated with the tree anymore or has to be moved, so it’s a little difficult when you’re dealing with a living entity,” Bellavia said.
Following the first year or two after the planting, Bellavia said members of her staff will continue to water and nurture the trees. For the ceremony, she said that members of her staff will prepare the holes for the trees in advance so all three trees can be planted at the same time.
While coordinating a location for the planting during Green Week was stressful at first, Parks said that she feels confident now that she confirmed a time and place with Bellavia.
Parks also recruited eight student volunteers to assist in planting the trees on Thursday. She used the Class of 2024 GroupMe to gather volunteers, and received messages from students who were interested in being involved in the planting ceremony.
Another difficulty of the project was the amount of money that the group needed to raise in order to make the planting possible, Parks said. Newtonians, though, have not been shy about showing their support.
4C has raised $36,158, which is more than halfway to its $60,000 goal. Parks said that all of the money will go towards purchasing the trees, which cost $150 each.
Parks said that the group primarily gathered donations through crowdsourcing.
Since the project began in October, Parks has attended weekly hour-and-a-half-long meetings to discuss plans for the project, including events to raise money.
Parks said she sent out emails to alumni to gain support, and that she and members of Green Newton sent out letters to their friends, families, and neighbors to see if they could make a donation, no matter how small.
“One thing that we did was we had an event at a Chili’s where you got a discount on whatever you had and part of the proceeds were donated to the project, so that was really cool,” Parks said.
This week, Parks and other members of Green Newton will be sitting outside of Newton City Hall handing out pamphlets with information about the project, according to Parks. The group has also spread the word on its Instagram and Facebook pages.
She said that planning the project was challenging at times because they had to do so remotely.
“Communication is just difficult sometimes like because everything’s virtual, it’s sometimes hard to find times when everybody can talk and meet,” Parks said.
Welch, who is overseeing the tree plantings in Newton, said that 170 trees will be planted at a number of school locations and at parks throughout Newton.
“They had requested that, if it was possible, to really focus on school sites or park sites. And based on the number of trees they wanted to get planted, and in the short timeframe, we needed to pull off the project from when they first reached out to us, school sites and park locations were the easiest place to find homes for the trees,” Welch said.
Welch said that members of the city staff will be responsible for the majority of the planting, with some assistance from volunteers.
“I think it will take us about a week, maybe a little bit more or a little bit less … but generally, I would say the majority of them should be in the ground, in about a week’s time, once we start,” Welch said.
Once the city has planted the trees, Welch said, they will receive weekly watering for at least one year from members of the city’s forestry staff.
He said that the majority of the trees will be oak, elm, American linden, crab apple, and cherry, with a few other tree species mixed in.
“Because many of the sites were open areas, school grounds not having any overhead wires or other obstructions, those types of sites lend themselves to larger growing trees, trees that will grow to be taller and larger,” Welch said. “So based on that we chose from a list of available tree species that the nursery purchased from has based on their availability, what we have, based on our experience with those wells, and the locations.”
Since 1970, the number of trees in Newton’s public spaces has dwindled from 40,000 trees to 20,000, according to Green Newton. Welch said that there are a variety of reasons why the city has lost trees over the past 40 years.
“The city has lost street trees because of decline and death. There’s been loss of trees on private property in the city,” Welch said. “So the way that these trees help that is that they help restore and add to the city’s tree canopy. Most of these trees aren’t going on the street, so they won’t address our loss of the tree population but they will certainly help address the loss of the overall tree canopy.”
Both meaningful and practical, the trees will not only help Newton environmentally but also restore lost trees in the city. In accordance with the 4C message, the trees will provide an enduring memorial for those lost to COVID-19.
“I think they’re going to be a really special memorial and show the community that we’re not going to forget about these people that have passed away, that we care about them and that we’re trying to make a difference in Newton,” Parks said. “And also just show that the environment is something else that we care about and how people can play a role in that, even ordinary people. Like, we’re just college students.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Jojo Parks
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