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RETREET Is Coming To The Miami Valley

Damage on the ground from the 2019 tornadoes
Kristin Stratman
Devastation from the 2019 tornadoes in the Miami Valley

The non-profit organization RETREET is coming to the Miami Valley to plant trees. The 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes damaged much of the natural vegetation in the area.

The Memorial Day Tornadoes of 2019 killed two people and damaged thousands of homes and businesses. They also damaged thousands of trees.

This fall, the nonprofit organization RETREET is coming to the Miami Valley. Volunteers will plant hundreds of trees in the City of Dayton, Beavercreek, Harrison Township and Trotwood.

It’s been almost two years since the tornadoes hit the Miami Valley. Most of the homes and buildings that were damaged have been repaired or are being rebuilt. But most of the trees that fell have not been replaced.

Rap Hankins, a resident and community activist in Trotwood, was at home when one of the tornadoes blasted through his yard. It took down the old maples and oaks that he thinks must have shaded his property for a hundred years.

“The biggest scar right now that we’re facing is those trees that the tornadoes took down or damaged. You can haul them away but you look at your neighborhood and it doesn’t look the same neighborhood.”

Yvette Page, a Trotwood City Council member, was also at home when a tornado hit her street. She said in the aftermath of the storm, people didn’t have time to mourn the trees that were lost.

“Replacing a tree is the last thing on your mind when you’re going through a crisis. You know, you’re more focused on trying to get an electrician to turn on your lights, trying to get your roof repaired.”

Grady McGahan founded RETREET in 2012. He saw a unique problem in emergency response. Disasters like fires, hurricanes and tornadoes hurt people and damage structures, but they also kill a lot of trees. Since the organization was founded, they’ve planted almost six-thousand trees across seven states and the Canadian province of Ontario. McGahan says replanting trees in an area affected by disaster helps the community recover.

“By planting a tree, that’s something that means a lot the day that it happens. There’s a lot of healing that occurs as the environmental identity of a community is being reestablished especially in a time where it will have been a year or two years since the disaster happened.”

Extensive tornado damage from the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes in a neighborhood.
Kristin Stratman
Extensive tornado damage from the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes in a neighborhood.

RETREET recently merged with the organization Keep America Beautiful. It’s partnering with local organizations, including the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and Aullwood Audubon.

Homeowners and residents who want a tree planted in their yard will be able to sign up in the fall. RETREET will send arborists out to determine what species of tree should be planted, and where the tree should go. Then, they’ll go to local nurseries to buy the young trees to plant.

Hundreds of volunteers are expected to come from across the country to help plant the trees. McGahan expects this to be a cathartic experience for everyone involved.

“It’s going to be such a welcome moment on the other side of the pandemic where people are stepping in and having those connections and are incredibly thankful for that moment because of how deprived we all feel of each other's presences right now.”

If all of the trees don’t get planted on their first visit, McGahan says RETREET will return to plant more.