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FAMILY

Planting an Idea

TreePeople nurtures respect for the environment among young visitors.

May 08, 1997|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's kind of like an all-you-can-eat Chuck E. Cheese for bugs, worms and spiders, says TreePeople tour guide Rosa Bautista, mixing up a batch of "dirt dessert." Not one of the dozen or so 5- and 6-year-olds watching volunteers to taste the concoction. Nobody wants to lick the bowl.

But everyone is willing to grab a handful of the ecological entree--a mixture of banana peels, apple cores, crunchy brown leaves, green leaves, water and dirt--and pat it all around the base of a young tree. After all, a tree's gotta eat.

And that's the first thing kids learn on their visit to TreePeople in Coldwater Canyon Park. Trees live, breathe--some believe even talk--well, they have been trying to tell us something for quite some time now, haven't they?

Trees suck up smog and spew out fresh air for us to breathe; they provide us with food, prevent erosion and bring beauty to the city surroundings. It's all so simple, even a child can understand.

TreePeople has made it its mission to get the word out to youngsters--who in turn tend to remind adults about the importance of plants and trees and taking care of the environment. Three days a week, groups of schoolchildren and Boy and Girl Scouts explore the 44-acre park off Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon Avenue, where mulch piles, seedlings and recycling are part of the playground of kid-friendly, hands-on eco tours. (Family tours and planting projects are held on weekends.)

"The kids learn they can have an immediate impact by the choices they make," said Gretchen Knudsen, director of elementary education at TreePeople. "Whether to recycle, which affects landfills, or to put trash in the street, which affects the health of the ocean."

Kindergartener Levi Williams looked as intense as a scientist doing a lab experiment as he packed dirt into a long plastic tube and held it steady while Bautista dropped in a Canary Island pine tree seed.

"You know," said Patricia Williams, Levi's mother and a chaperon for the recent field trip, "Levi is the hardest in the family to please. And if he was excited, you know it was a good trip."

About 200 or so young visitors come here each week with wide eyes and eager hands and are entrusted with absorbing the information like thirsty plants and taking it back to share with their families. They will, TreePeople volunteers believe, help make a difference in the effort to maintain a healthy environment. But to Levi and his classmates, it's also a lot of fun.

BE THERE

TreePeople needs volunteers Sat., 9 a.m.-noon, for tree plantings at Memory Gardens of the San Fernando Mission. (818) 753-4622

On Sun., 9 a.m.-1 p.m., volunteers are sought to help plant trees for the Mother's Day Forest at Kenneth Hahn Park's Olympic Forest, off La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. (818) 753-4600.

Family Eco Tour will be held May 17. For information about these and other TreePeople programs: (818) 753-4600.

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