New Trees for Orange County

A philanthropic foundation in Orange has launched a program to replace the untold numbers of trees that were destroyed in that area by Hurricane Rita.

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It took Hurricane Rita only a few hours to destroy more than two million trees in east and southeast Texas when it came ashore in September. It will take mother nature decades to restore the greenery that was lost, but in Orange County near Beaumont, the nonprofit Stark Foundation is giving mother nature a little help. The Stark Foundation is donating thousands of young trees, which will be given away free to the people of Orange County by the foundation's Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. Shangri La Director Mike Hoke says he knows this doesn't seem like much, but it's a start.

"We can talk about the devastation, and we can talk about the fact that we lost so many trees, but you know all of those empty yards that are in Orange right now, if you throw 2500 trees up in our little area, you're gonna see a significant difference in five years. We know that in Shangri La Gardens we lost a lot of trees and we know that we're going to buy a significant number in the next few months to replace them."

Hoke is already spending a lot of time driving around undamaged areas of north Texas and Louisiana shopping for tree seedlings to bring back to Orange for replanting.

"We're seeing a lot of live oaks, and we're seeing a lot of bald cypress and red maples and magnolias, the things that we're really looking for. There's about 200 nurseries up here so there's some flexibility."

Hoke says people who haven't driven through the Orange area since the hurricane would be stunned to see the totality of the destruction, and how denuded of greenery that area is. That's why the Stark Foundation launched this project named "Re-shade Orange -- Plant a Tree", which Hoke says will provide each household with as many as three trees. He says it's going to take time, but it's worth it because it will get that part of the state on the road to being green again.

"It has been devastating, but things are gonna better, we're gonna make some impact. The whole thing that we're going to be doing, we're going to be teaching them how to plant the trees before we give them the trees, and they'll be able to take them home and plant them in their yards."

Hoke says a few thousand trees are just a drop in the bucket considering how many trees were lost overall but you have to start somewhere, and he believes our grandchildren will thank us for making the effort. There's more information on the Stark Foundation and Shangri La Botanical Gardens on our website kuhf.org.