Tree planting boosts Duluth jobs, water quality

Dane and Lynn Youngblom have been trying for 20 years to reforest their 15 acres at the headwaters of Chester Creek in Duluth, with little success. "I've planted hundreds of trees since we moved in and almost none of them grew. The deer just mowe...

Checking on a sapling
Tim Beaster, program manager for the Duluth Stream Corps, checks on the condition of a newly planted white cedar tree on Dane and Lynn Youngbloms' property Tuesday. Trees and shrubs planted by the Duluth Stream Corps are helping to stabilize and preserve the area's watershed. (Bob King /

Dane and Lynn Youngblom have been trying for 20 years to reforest their 15 acres at the headwaters of Chester Creek in Duluth, with little success.

"I've planted hundreds of trees since we moved in and almost none of them grew. The deer just mowed them down," Dane Youngblom said Tuesday as he walked on his land.

But thanks to the Duluth Stream Corps project, the Youngbloms now have 75 new trees on their land -- fully encased and protected from hungry critters.

Organizers hope the 2-foot-tall trees will grow into stately sentinels, towering over the wetland here where Chester Creek starts its march down Duluth's hillside and into Lake Superior.

The project on the Youngbloms' property is one of 70 the Stream Corps has worked on this summer, planting more than 2,000 native trees and as many native shrubs along Duluth-area streams.


Participants get free expert advice on where trees should be planted, landscaping tips, free labor and free trees, thanks to a federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. The stream-side landowners pay only for the fencing.

The goal is to engage private landowners to get involved in reforesting Duluth's watersheds with native species to help slow runoff into local streams that flow into Lake Superior.

The trees help reduce runoff and erosion and filter pollution out of the runoff, especially after big rains. Trees closest to the streams also help keep the water cool, a critical element for the trout that live there.

"All of this area was white pine and spruce originally but was basically clear-cut for dairy farms 100 years ago," Youngblom said. "And when it grew back, it came back as scrub brush and shrubs and grass. The native trees didn't have a chance."

Now he thinks they do.

Stream Corps workers are planting yellow birch, white cedar, silver maple, bur oak, white spruce and white pine, which now are taking root safely ensconced in plastic tubes or wire mesh at streams in and around Duluth. Similar projects through County Soil and Water Conservation Districts are adding trees elsewhere in St. Louis and Carlton counties, such as in the Nemadji and Knife River watersheds.

The Stream Corps project doesn't have only ecological benefits, however. The brainchild of Community Action Duluth, Stream Corps is modeled after the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps that put unemployed Americans to work in forests planting trees and building erosion control and public works projects.

Stream Corps used its $636,125 Great Lakes Restoration grant not only to buy trees but to pay for five unemployed or underemployed Duluthians for two years. The workers earn $13 an hour, have health insurance coverage and get paid time off. Their winter months are spent recruiting landowners to participate in the program.


"It's been the best job I've ever had," said Shannon O'Leary. "The best part is we're making a very big difference for these streams."

The project is nearly halfway through its first planting season and its funding, with the program set to expire at the end of September 2012. But supporters want to keep it going after that.

Aaron Finke, another of the tree planters, said he's encouraged at how landowners respond when asked to participate.

And though some landowners have balked at the price of fencing trees, project organizers on Monday announced a $15,000 grant from the group Freshwater Future that will help pay the cost of fencing for landowners who can't afford it.

Duluth Stream Corps is looking for more landowners to participate.

"We're going to be out this winter recruiting businesses as well. Golf courses, the Miller Hill Mall (area businesses). It's not just homeowners that have land along streams," said Tim Beaster, Duluth Stream Corps project coordinator.

At the headwaters of Chester Creek
Dane Youngblom walks through a low, wet part of his property that comprises the headwaters of Chester Creek. Trees were planted around the area by members of the Duluth Stream Corps for watershed stabilization. (Bob King /

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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