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Partnership between Notre Dame, South Bend plants trees in vacant city lots

NOW: Partnership between Notre Dame, South Bend plants trees in vacant city lots

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A partnership between the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Civic Innovation and the CIty of South Bend is adding greenery and revitalizing vacant lots in South Bend. 

It’s called the Native Tree Nursery Project.

The organizers of the project say that these trees not only beautify the City of South Bend but creates a more eco-friendly town. 

Bundled up in a gray sweatshirt and neon yellow vest, Lauren Lounsbury greets volunteers as she’s handed two trees. 

“Hi Maggie!” said Lounsbury. 

One-by-one, Lounsbury and two dozen other community members plop the whips into a once vacant lot off of Allen Street in South Bend. 

“There’s trees like the crabapple, and the Beech tree,” said Lounsbury. “I know there’s some different types of oaks as well.” 

The lot is part of the Native Tree Nursery Project. 

It’s an initiative between the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Civic Innovation’s Bowman Creek Ecological Ecosystem and the City of South Bend’s Forestry Department. 

“There are a lot of vacant lots around town and this particular project is looking at creative, innovative, effective ways of using those vacant lots,” said Center for Civic Education Executive Director Jay Brockman. “In this case, to plant trees.”

It started three years ago after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s “1,000 Homes in 1,000 Days” initiative left empty lots across town. 

“A lot of times it just has tons of garbage, it becomes like a dumping site,” said Lounsbury. “The hope is that with trees here, that’s less likely to happen.” 

Bowman Creek interns find, buym and prep the lots each summer then volunteers plant the trees throughout the rest of the year. 

Between 1,500 and 2,000 trees now fill 14 lots in neighborhoods on South Bend’s southeast and northwest side. 

“I think it just shows that the community... cares about the city,” said Lounsbury. 

Once mature the trees will be planted in parks and medians and boulevards in the city. 

Since whips cost less, it saves the city hundreds of dollars per tree compared to buying from an outside grower. 

“Cities need trees for, you know, a bunch of different reasons,” said Brockman. “Trees provide shade. Tthey’re important for the oxygen that we have.”

It takes three to five years for the whips to mature. Lounsbury says trees from the project’s first lot should be ready for transplant next summer. 

“I think it’s a learning opportunity,” said Lournsbury. “We’re doing something to not only improve the vacant lots, but also to increase our canopy coverage in the city.” 

And as the trees grow, so does the sense of community. 

“You know for a kid to come home from school and walk past a tree nursery for example and say, ‘You know I did that and I’m contributing to the betterment of my neighborhood,’ that I think is an important reason,” said Brockman. 

For people interested in becoming Bowman Creek interns or volunteering with the Native Tree Nursery Project, click here.

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