The Power of Planting

The Power of Planting

“Nobody is going to touch those trees. They are not going to be cut down or touched. These kids don’t forget. They know.”

That’s why Ralph Munro, who served as Washington’s Secretary of State for more than two decades, believed it was so important to get kids involved with planting trees.

And since 1992, students in Olympia have proven him right.

Getting kids outside

Rick Bird, then the principal of McLane Elementary, knew that many of his students lived in apartments and condos. How could he help get them to spend more time outside? He called Ralph, who suggested they teach the kids how to plant trees. While they couldn’t find suitable space around the school, they soon discovered they could use property that had been donated to the county. There was just one problem: It was covered with invasives like Scotch Broom.

Ralph quickly called Dave Pearsall, a friend and fellow tree lover. However, Dave’s love for trees runs a little deeper than most—he has been planting trees since 1957, and signs his emails “Chief Tree Planter.” Dave operated a tree-planting company that contracted with small landowners (people with fewer than 40 acres) to plant trees. At the height of his work he was planting 1.3 million trees a year, and by 1990, his business had planted over 22 million trees across 100,000 acres.

Naturally, Dave loved the idea of helping school kids plant trees. He contacted a logger friend of his to clear the 23 acres of county land so trees could be planted by the McLane students.

‘McLane School Forest’

And plant them they did, even though it was pouring rain when the day arrived for planting.  The kids didn’t bring boots, so they put plastic bags around their feet and kept going—every kid, including some in wheelchairs, planted trees. When they were done, they proudly put up a sign for the “McLane School Forest.”

Just 8 inches tall when planted, the trees garnered some chuckles at first. But then they started to grow. Now they’re 45 feet tall!





Broadening the effort

In 1995, Ralph and Dave were joined by Bob Barnes (the landscape architect for the state Department of Transportation), who helped them build a trail network to connect to other areas that needed reforesting along Evergreen Parkway in Olympia. This provided easier access to tree-planting opportunities for students.

They also branched out beyond McLane, bringing in students from Marshall Middle School and eventually Capitol High School to plant in conjunction with the conservation district. Year after year, more trees were planted.  Students who planted 30 years ago now have children of their own who are taking part.  When they ran out of space to plant trees, they planted daffodil bulbs which are still planted every year along the Evergreen Parkway, funded by donations from people who hike the trail.

‘Generation to generation’

“We see many of the McLane kids come back as parents now with children of their own over those 30 years,” Dave said. “This goes from generation to generation once you get them started. That’s why Ralph, Bob, and I thought it was so important to get the young kids involved. We realized how important it is for the environment, the trees, the water, and clean air. It worked really well.”

It also creates advocates, Bob noted. “The more folks you can include in tree-planting projects the better, because then they all have ownership. I always try to include the schools—kids, teachers and parents—along with City Council members, County Commissioners, folks in different levels of the city government. It’s good to include all of those folks because they all want to be involved. And it’s better if they are, because that way they are going to be the ambassadors who are going to spread the word.”







Still going strong

During the 2021-22 school year, Marshall Middle School students were active participants in the 1000 Redwoods project, helping plant 25 redwoods at West Bay Woods and 50 redwoods on the Evergreen Parkway by the Ralph Munro Trail (named because of his years of working with McLane School students). And for the 2022-23 school year, Marshall Middle School received 50 redwood seedlings to plant their very own redwood forest on school grounds—yet another chapter in a story that will impact the planet for centuries to come.



Marshall Middle School students have been doing a day of service for Martin Luther King Day of Caring for the past several years.

This year was no different.  On January 13, 2023 from 10 AM – 2 PM the entire student body of Marshall Middle School, along with volunteers from the TwinStar Credit Union and many others, planted trees and bushes at the 20-acre Cooper Crest Ecosystem Restoration site at 2922 20th Ave NW in Olympia.

Be watching for a story about the day’s event, coming soon!



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