By Megan Wright, American Forests
I never really appreciated the Adirondack Mountains until I left them for Washington, D.C. As a budding college student eager to see what the world had to offer, the change to big-city life was what I wanted. When I left for school, I expected to miss my family, my dog. I did not expect to miss the view of the mountains on the horizon; the clean, crisp air; and the clear night skies that allowed me to see the Big Dipper from my front yard.
As a child growing up in New York (upstate, not the city), I got used to seeing forests all around me, which led me to assume that that kind of natural scenery was everywhere. I loved to take hikes with my friends and family every weekend, or walk my dog at the conservation area five minutes from my house. I took for granted the sense of serenity that forests brought me, making me feel as though I was, and am, a part of something bigger than myself.
Realizing just how important forests are to me is one of the many things that drew me to American Forests. I love D.C. and I love trees, and American Forests allowed me to combine the two with important initiatives like their Community ReLeaf program.
This program focuses on urban forests across the country, working to plant more trees in cities, assess damage on tree canopies, and encourage people of all ages to learn the importance of forests. For D.C. in particular, American Forests engages with disenfranchised communities and works to create greenspace across the city. For example, they were able to turn a three-acre vacant lot into a public greenspace that includes a children’s discovery area, performance stages, a fitness track, art installations, and an urban research farm.
The work that American Forests is doing in urban areas is essential. According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. That number will surely grow as we become a more urbanized nation and, in doing so, we have to shift the way that we incorporate forests into our daily lives.
Urban forests play a key role in promoting the health and happiness of communities. They filter air, control stormwater runoff, conserve energy, and provide animal habitats. Forests improve the well-being of people living in cities as well, as they reduce stress, create places to relax and play, spur neighborly interaction and decrease noise pollution.
To me, working with American Forests allows me to get back some of what I miss from home, and to share it with others. Even in a city as big and bustling as Washington, D.C., people can still connect with forests and nature thanks to programs like Community ReLeaf. Although it’s not the same as being a 20-minute drive from the Adirondacks or being able to take a hike whenever I please, American Forests is helping me connect with forests in a new way.
As a policy intern, I will be able to help make sure that all communities have access to greenspace and trees; that people in urban areas will be able to experience a little of what I had growing up, right outside their front doors.
By working with an organization that is so committed to restoring, protecting and integrating forests, I am able to have the chance to care for a part of nature that has cared for me the majority of my life. After all, we are a part of nature, not separate from it, so by caring for forests, we are essentially caring for ourselves.