Henrico, HCPS, Capital Trees partner to enhance county tree canopies

Reforestation program will initially focus on Deep Run and Cheswick parks plus a middle school and high school in eastern Henrico

Henrico County is partnering with Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) and the nonprofit organization Capital Trees on a program to expand and strengthen tree canopies at the county’s parks and schools.

Officials announced the reforestation program today at Deep Run Park, a 165-acre, wooded park on Ridgefield Parkway that is one of four sites selected for the program’s pilot phase. The other locations are Cheswick Park, a 24.5-acre, wooded park on Forest Avenue that recently closed for a $2.1 million renovation, as well as a middle school and a high school in eastern Henrico with currently limited tree cover. The school sites will be chosen soon.

With a combined 5,000 acres at Henrico’s parks and school properties, officials expect the reforestation program to expand gradually to other parks and school grounds. Over time, the program could result in potentially hundreds of tree plantings plus new practices to promote healthy growth and regeneration of woods and forests.

“Trees can truly be lifesavers and our strongest tool in mitigating the impacts of climate change. They help clean the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said Henrico Chief of Staff Cari Tretina, who will oversee the reforestation program. “Trees also limit erosion, protect wildlife, promote biodiversity and reduce temperatures by providing shade. It is our obligation to maintain a healthy tree canopy on public land. We look forward to refining our plans over the next few months, so we can begin planting trees in late fall.”

The reforestation program is guided by a one-year, renewable memorandum of understanding. For a $50,000 annual fee paid by the county, Capital Trees will advise on tree purchasing, planting and maintenance as well as provide other assistance, which will include helping to apply for grants and coordinating an annual volunteer event. Henrico will administer the program, establish its budget, handle purchasing and oversee all planting and maintenance.

“We are very excited to partner with Capital Trees and the county to enhance green spaces on some of our campuses,” HCPS Superintendent Amy E. Cashwell said. “With increased emphasis on environmental education, such as our new Center for Environmental Studies and Sustainability, we welcome additional partnerships that have the potential to provide valuable and very relevant, hands-on learning experiences for our students.”

Capital Trees, a Richmond-based nonprofit established in 2010, is focused on creating vibrant, public landscapes to promote community, environmental stability, economic investment and healthy lifestyles. Led by its two-member staff and volunteer Board of Trustees, the organization recently adopted a three-year strategic plan that includes advancing new projects and increasing public awareness of the benefits of public landscapes.

“Capital Trees is committed to building a greener and more livable community for residents and visitors alike,” Executive Director Shelly Barrick Parsons said. “We are compelled in this work because healthy, beautiful green spaces improve climate resilience and community well-being. We are excited about this opportunity to assess the tree canopy at parks and schools in Henrico County. We look forward to recommending best plants and practices, and to sponsoring volunteer activities so we all can work to sustain and improve these public landscapes.”

The reforestation program is one of the first initiatives of Henrico’s Environmental Action Resource Team, which includes representatives of various agencies and focuses on strengthening county efforts to promote sustainability, preserve natural resources and protect the environment. Henrico’s environmental initiatives also include designing and constructing new buildings to LEED standards, installing solar panel systems at libraries, schools and other county locations, partnering with businesses to reduce single-use plastics, restoring streams and enhancing curbside recycling. In the past, Henrico has incorporated tree planting on a project-by-project basis.

“Henrico is proud to be the first county to partner with Capital Trees and to look at reforestation more holistically,” Tretina said. “This program demonstrates our commitment to being a good steward of the environment while also providing our residents with high-quality services and an attractive, healthy place to live.”

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