By Doyle Irvin, American Forests

This is one of an 11-part blog series detailing the extensive work we are doing with the Alcoa Foundation. You can find out more here.

Students learning to care for the environment in Massena.

The town of Massena in New York’s St. Lawrence County knows that winter is coming. Located right on the Canadian border, Massena is as far north as you can get in the state of New York, and sports one of the most active and invested public utilities in the United States.

The Massena Electric Department (MED) has been deeply involved in reforesting the town since an ice storm in 1998 made it abundantly clear that urban forests are a public asset — both impermanent and invaluable. The urban forest normally survives such harsh elements, but the adverse onset of the emerald ash borer has since stressed the tree canopies of upstate New York and rendered them especially susceptible to ice storms and other wintry antagonists.

The MED understands that trees benefit their own work, year round. They act as wind breaks during the winter and provide shade during the summer, which reduces the electricity demands of the town. What makes their efforts particularly interesting is that it’s not just a bottom-line decision for them — they are also interested in serving the community. The most significant factor of their work is that they are deeply invested in both assisting the underserved community, where tree canopy is normally the lowest, and educating youth about the importance of greenspace.

These aspects of their work are why American Forests and Alcoa Foundation are very proud to support their efforts. The holistic nature of the MED’s environmental goals makes it an easy decision for us.

To accomplish these goals, volunteers from the MED, the local community and Alcoa Foundation plant sizable trees in these low-income communities. They also hold six education events for the public throughout the year, teaching residents how to maintain the trees and all of the benefits that come along with urban canopy. The MED also involves local schools by integrating environmental education into the classroom. Students are given a sapling to plant at their homes, and taught how to take care of their trees.

These efforts have made the initiative an award-winning public campaign for the last nine years straight. This year, they add on another objective: the rehabilitation of a sand mine. Previously used to provide sand for city streets during winter, this 2-acre lot will be restored with 1,250 saplings.

American Forests and Alcoa Foundation have been working in Massena since 2011, and are inspired by the local commitment to urban reforestation. The total scope of this year’s project includes the 1,250 saplings to be planted in the sand mine, roughly 100 more fully grown trees for planting in underserved communities, and all of the educational events. Species to be planted are red maple, sugar maple, northern red oak and malus.