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December 16, 2020

A rainy and cold December morning couldn’t stop dedicated volunteers from planting trees at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Recently, 10 employees from Columbia Bank volunteered to help the park’s horticulturist plant 260 native trees around the parking lots.

Dressed in rain coats, hats and boots, the volunteers stood in a socially-distanced circle and listened as horticulturist Jake Pool explained the process of planting and why it’s so important to have new trees in the park.

“In the 13 years I’ve worked at Northwest Trek, this is by far the worst year I’ve seen for tree loss,” said Pool. “Just this month, we cut down 225 dead trees to keep people safe when they drive in the park or take a tram tour through the Free-Roaming Area.”

Pool explained the trees are dying due to the climate shifting which makes the trees more susceptible to diseases like laminated root rot that naturally occur in forested areas.

man plants tree
Horticulturist Jake Pool explains how and where to plant the trees

“Once the trees are gone, it becomes harder to establish new trees,” said Pool. “Trees rely on each other, work together and share nutrients. It’s all part of the ‘Wood Wide Web.’  They are interconnected by the fungi.  You need to have both established trees and new trees for them to have best chance to survive.”

Pool also explained that trees are vital to our clean air and water, animal habitat, slowing climate change and for both our physical and mental health.

Still all gathered in the parking lot, the volunteers listening intently and learning from the tree-expert, Pool pointed out four groupings of potted trees to the volunteers: Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, Douglas fir and Western white pine. Around the parking lots were colored flags, each representing a type of tree, placed where Pool wanted each tree to go.

“I’ve chosen the spots based on factors like which trees can handle shade, wet or dry conditions,” said Pool.

After a few more tips on how deep to dig the holes and avoiding rocks, buried logs and existing roots, the volunteers grabbed their shovels and got to work. Although rainy and muddy, there wasn’t ever a complaint, not even from the 5-year-old girl who tagged along with her mom.

“My daughter gets sad when she sees logging trucks pass by our house, so it’s really nice to get out here with her and show her how we can help and plant new trees together,” said volunteer Paola Adams.

Mom and daughter planting trees together
Mom and daughter planting trees together

Adams and the other volunteers with Columbia Bank are allocated a certain number of paid volunteer hours each year to help out in their communities. This past April marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and Columbia Bank teamed up with Metro Parks Tacoma and other organizations with a goal of planting a healthy tree for every child in Pierce County in 2020.

“We work to have a positive impact on our communities by taking action to reduce our environmental footprint and modeling the way for other companies to do the same,” said Columbia Bank President and CEO Clint Stein. “We love how passionate our people are about the organizations they support. They understand the needs of their communities and are passionate about improving them.”

men planting trees
Columbia Bank volunteers planting trees at Northwest Trek

Pool says 1,000 to 3,000 trees are added to the park each year. But because of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, far fewer were able to be planted this year. He’s hoping to get more volunteers out in 2021 to plant as many trees as possible.

Groups or individuals that would like to volunteer to help plant trees should email  for 2021 planting events.

Special thanks to local grower Silvaseed Company Inc. for donating 8,000 native trees to Northwest Trek.

The Earth Day South Sound partnership provided potting soil and nursery pots and helped pot 5,000 trees at Northwest Trek.  Big thanks to City of Tacoma, Pierce County, Tacoma Tree Foundation, Puyallup Watershed Initiative and Metro Parks of Tacoma staff for helping preserve these trees for planting.

Learn more about trees and nature:

Watch: How trees secretly talk to each other in the forest

Read: Why trees can make you happier

Listen: The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative