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Places Where Trees Grow Along With Memories


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Where the land falls away into a creek bed on the western end of Pasadena, Tim Brick and volunteers of the Arroyo Seco Council dug holes in February, 1991, to plant trees for each Pasadena resident who had died of AIDS.

As part of a grander effort to reforest the arroyo, which wends its way from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Los Angeles River, the volunteers planted a grove of 110 coast live oak, Pasadena oak, black walnut and sycamore.

"For me, the grove brings together a lot of things that are important," said Brick, 46, the nonprofit environmental council's executive director. "It's a place to go and reflect and think of loved ones who have died of AIDS. It's a real healing process for people to plant a tree and see it grow."

Some of the trees, Brick said, he associates with friends who died. "But we try to get people to identify more with the grove, not specific trees," because the trees, too, can die.

The tree-planting in the AIDS grove has not been able to keep pace: 90 more Pasadena residents have died since it was started and, counting replacements, there are 120 trees.

Still, as Brick walked through the arroyo to look at the trees, now maturing, he said: "You can talk about global warming and all that. But people want to feel they're doing something practical and constructive. And that's what tree planting can be."

This year, to celebrate Earth Day (which is today), and to keep a pledge to reforest a part of the arroyo in memory of those who died of AIDS, volunteers will return Saturday to plant more trees in the grove.

Since Earth Day 1990, all across the San Gabriel Valley, hundreds of other volunteers have planted thousands upon thousands of trees from Pasadena to Claremont and from El Monte to the Angeles National Forest.

The tree planters--including students from the Westridge School for Girls, and Pasadena members of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club and of the Pasadena AIDS Community Coordinating Committee continue their efforts despite governmental cutbacks. The city of Pasadena, for example, which staged extensive Earth Day celebrations the last three years, has postponed its Earth Festival until at least next summer, when funding prospects might improve.

Although there have been many one-day, short-lived tree-planting attempts, a few nonprofit groups, such as North East Trees, based in Eagle Rock, and the Arroyo Seco Council in Pasadena, have survived.

Even as they battle turnover and volunteer burnout, the groups are supplementing beleaguered tree-planting budgets of communities and governmental agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.

Without help from San Gabriel High School students, Scouting groups, TreePeople, the San Pedro chapter of the Izaak Walton League, and other groups, trees wouldn't be planted on the Mt. Baldy District of the Angeles National Forest, said Charlotte Whelan of the Forest Service, who coordinates volunteer tree-planting programs for the district. "The money just isn't there," she said.

Last year in the San Gabriel Mountains, volunteers under her direction helped to plant 2,400 oaks and conifers, and this year 3,000 to 4,000 trees already have been planted.

In Claremont last year, a state grant helped the city buy 1,200 trees, but they couldn't have been planted without a barn-raising spirit by civic clubs, Scouting organizations and youth groups, said Larry Wheaton, maintenance supervisor for Claremont.

In Pasadena, one group has launched a fund-raising effort to supplement the city's once-ambitious tree-planting program, eliminated due to budgetary problems last year. The Pasadena Beautiful Foundation received a commitment that the city would match the funds the organization raised for tree planting, said president Alice Frost Kennedy.

In its initial effort, the group already has raised $7,000, though it's a far cry from the $200,000 a year that Pasadena had proposed spending when a five-year tree replacement program was started in 1989. Each year up to 1,000 trees in the city die from disease, storm damage and other causes, Kennedy said.

In addition, the group started a "Save Our Street Trees" crew that goes out one Saturday a month to maintain existing trees.

Joint arrangements such as this will be increasingly required to keep the "urban forest" vital, said Brick of the Arroyo Seco Council.

As an example, he pointed to a program last summer in which the council hired a dozen disadvantaged workers to plant 864 trees along the Pasadena streets. The trees had been donated by the state Forestry Department.

The group is overseeing another joint venture with a $170,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that is paying for 13 people to train as arborists while they work as temporary city employees.

Along a stretch of the Arroyo Seco just above the Los Angeles River, volunteers with North East Trees will be planting native oaks, toyon, elderberry and sycamore trees with a $260,000 state grant.

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