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Maria Martin (center) of Maple Grove helps at Friday’s Arbor Day planting at the South Washington Conservation Corridor. Martin is an intern with Great River Greening, who organized the event along with the South Washington Watershed District. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Arbor Day tree planting brings out 125 volunteers in Cottage Grove/Woodbury area

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Nearly 125 volunteers turned out Friday to help plant trees along the South Washington County Conservation Corridor.

The big dig took place on an 80-acre parcel of rolling grassland between Cottage Grove and Woodbury. The land is an environmentally significant area that links with the Mississippi watershed.

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Volunteers planted white oak, bur oak, American plum, hawthorn and hazel trees.

It may be a while before they can provide shade or a safe place for a red-headed woodpecker to build a nest, but the 1,400 saplings and shrubs that took root by day’s end will help retain stormwater runoff during heavy rains.

It’s also a step toward transforming the area back to its former incarnation as a lush savannah that sustained hundreds of native species.

“Basically (the goal) is to restore that natural system closer to the way it was 150 or 200 years ago,” said Wayne Ostlie, director of conservation programs for Great River Greening, which organized the project.

Jeff Elias, of Woodbury, wielded his shovel as part of a volunteer contingent from Dell Compellent, where he works as a support engineer.

A few feet away, Ira Signalness of Hudson, Wis., showed his son Noah, 3, the correct way to dig a hole for sapling. “You don’t want it too deep,” he told Noah, who will be 4 in two weeks. “You don’t want to compact the soil too much or it will suffocate the roots.”

Jake Greeley and Jess Randall, both 30, drove from St. Paul with their baby daughter, Layla, to help with the effort.

“You can’t go wrong planting trees,” Greeley said. “It beats watching TV.”

The restoration plan included the planting of bur oak saplings in groups of 12 that will mature into groves.

Ecologist Steve Thomforde, project manager for Great River Greening, waxed rhapsodic about the bur oak and its role in sustaining life on the prairie. “They knew buffalo,” he said. “They knew passenger pigeons.”

Funding was provided by the South Washington Watershed District and the Minnesota and Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

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