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Taking Root: Baton Rouge Green’s 1,000 Tree Challenge aims to beautify local roadways

At Baton Rouge Green, they have a saying: “If you have a problem, trees are the answer.”

While it sounds like an oversimplification, executive director Sage Foley says it’s shockingly accurate. “Unhealthy citizens? Trees—and the shade they create—encourage exercise. Stormwater problem? Trees,” she explains. “Trees have even been shown to help people heal faster when planted outside of hospital rooms, and children with trees outside of their classroom windows have been shown to have higher grades.”

But, along many of Baton Rouge’s main roadways, there are very few leaves overhead. Foley refers to sections of Burbank Drive, College Drive and Bluebonnet Boulevard as “giant heat islands” due to their lack of greenery. And while Baton Rouge Green currently maintains around 4,000 roadside trees throughout the city, Foley and her team are focused on increasing that number. 

Launching the 1,000 Tree Challenge last fall, Baton Rouge Green is teaming up with the community to beautify roads over the next 10 years. “I think it’s a common misconception, but Baton Rouge Green is a nonprofit, and we operate thanks to donations from locals,” Foley explains.

It takes between $1,500 and $1,700 to plant and care for one roadside tree over the course of a year. Since these trees aren’t seeds, but instead 15- to 25-gallon plants, professionals are needed to get them in the ground. And then when it comes to watering, especially in heat like Baton Rouge has faced over the course of the recent summer months, constant planning and attention are required.

“We want to ensure the success of our projects, so these trees are under constant inspection,” Foley says. “There’s so much more than meets the eye.”

While some sites like Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway are still just future targets for Baton Rouge Green, the organization has already made progress toward the 1,000-tree goal, having planted 43 trees along South Sherwood Forest Boulevard and working to replant 500 trees on I-10 at the I-12 split. Next up on the list is Bluebonnet Boulevard, which will see an influx of greenery with trees planned to go into the ground this winter.

“It seems like a drop in the bucket,” Foley explains of the project’s goal. “But I am confident it will have a ripple effect once people see the benefits for businesses, citizens, everyone. Our goal is always to be a vehicle for change, and this is the way we can do that. Even if it is just the small task of planting trees, it can make a big difference in the end, and it inspires other people to get involved and take an interest in the well-being of our community.”