‘This is my favorite thing’: ReTree event gets people, saplings in the dirt

Arthur Erbele and his dad Mark Erbele fill soil around a newly planted narrowleaf cottonwood during the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council's ReTree event on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Spencer Powell/ Steamboat Pilot & Today

Narrowleaf cottonwood trees grow fast and they grow tall, and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council expects the 300 saplings planted on Saturday, Oct. 1, to tower over the Yampa River within 30 years. 

“The goal of this project is to increase shade cover over the river, because in recent years we’ve had to close it due to high stream temperatures,” said Michelle Stewart, executive director of YVSC.

Stewart added planting trees is part of a broader climate solution because trees sequester carbon.  

Saturday was the 13th annual ReTree event and marks the fourth year of the Yampa River Forest Restoration Project, which aims to mitigate increases to the Yampa River’s water temperature by improving native riparian vegetation to reduce solar loading. Essentially, the goal is to plant trees that will provide shade to the river.

ReTree is done through a partnership with the Yampa River Fund and just this year was recognized as a project of value by the Colorado River District. In the past 12 years, YVSC has planted over 23,000 trees in the Yampa Valley. 

“The project has over a 90% success rate,” Stewart said. “So the trees that we plant, most of them will live, which is awesome. Success in a reforestation project is normally around 30%, but we’re at 90%, because we’re the Yampa Valley, right? We plant them with love.”

Saturday morning certainly felt like the first day of October. The air was crisp, the sky was gloomy and everything was wet, but spirits were high among the volunteers — many of whom were families with small children. 

Crews had already dug holes for the saplings using augers, so volunteers only needed to plant the trees and lay down mulch during the 13th annual ReTree event on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Spencer Powell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Toni and Josh German helped teach their two sons, Alden and Morris, how to plant saplings, which they took up immediately. 

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“You never quite know what they’re going to be interested in, or bored with,” Josh German said. “But yeah, they’re both really into it. Just a couple of boys playing in the mud.”

Josh German watches his two sons, Alden, left, and Morris, begin the first steps of planting a tree during the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s ReTree event on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Spencer Powell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Justin Minott, a forester from the Colorado State Forest Service, expects these narrow leaf cottonwoods to grow by about a foot per year, perhaps two during some years, meaning the volunteers can return each year and see substantial growth.

Sarah Newman has been going to ReTree projects for years, and said that despite the rain, Saturday’s event was easy compared to previous years. Last year, volunteers had to cross the Yampa at a section near Walton Pond. 

Justin Minott, a forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, was happy to share his knowledge with the volunteers at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s ReTree event on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Spencer Powell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“They said ‘Oh, the water will just come up to your knees,’ Newman said. “But I’m only five feet tall. It was pretty intense but it was awesome.” 

While putting the finishing touches on a newly planted sapling, Arthur Erbele asked his dad Mark Erbele if they could name the young tree “Stemmie.” Mark Erbele said they could. 

“This is my favorite thing,” Arthur Erbele said while inspecting the sapling.  “This is gonna be a tall tree.”

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