GIFFORD — With many of its old trees gone and those remaining appearing skeletal, tornado-damaged Gifford could use a little facelift.
It's coming on Saturday, April 5.
As many as 150 volunteers will be in the northeastern Champaign County area that day to plant about 235 trees, mostly on private property, in Gifford and in the areas north and south of the village that sustained heavy tornado damage Nov. 17.
Champaign horticulturalist Bill Malone, who is helping to organize the event, admits he's a bit nervous.
"I've never done a mass planting like this, with volunteers and, yes, I'm scared to death," he said with a laugh. "I hope this all comes together. I think it will. We're going to have a lot of professionals helping out with equipment and things."
Then he turned serious.
"Honestly, this is one of those things that you wait all your life to have the opportunity to do," said Malone, who said he has "about 40 years" in the tree and landscaping business. "My vocation is exactly what this is. I've worked with trees all my life but I've never had the opportunity to use it to help others.
"I'm excited. I'm pumped. I think this is going to be awesome. But I am a detail guy and I am a little nervous about all the details."
The Champaign County Farm Bureau, Champaign Rotary Club and Champaign's Ludwig Brothers Landscaping — where Malone is the design-build manager — are cosponsoring the project called "Let's Get Growing Again."
They plan to plant more than $30,000 worth of good-sized trees — mostly red oaks, swamp white oaks, sugar maples and a few red maples and smaller lindens and oaks — eight days from now, Malone said. The first volunteer crew will begin at 7:30 a.m. and the last group will start at 2:30 p.m.
"We're not planting any of these new, fast-growing maples that are suspect when it comes to tornadoes and high winds," he said. "We tried to mix it up enough so it won't be a monoculture.
"And we're not talking little, tiny trees. These are trees where the rootball is about 2 feet tall and 30 inches wide, That's a chunk of dirt that weighs anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds.
"We're talking big trees, not little trees. We're going to make a difference. They're going to show up. This isn't going to be a bunch of little sticks."
The trees are coming from two local growers: Moore Trees and Wandell's.
"They gave me the best pricing. It wasn't a matter of favoritism. I had nurseries from all over calling," he said.
The Rotarians and the Farm Bureau provided most of the money for the trees and supplies like mulch and rope, and they'll also put up most of the volunteers.
"We anticipate that we'll need 150 volunteers and I think we're in that ballpark today. I'm not there yet but I'm getting there," said Farm Bureau manager Brad Uken. (To volunteer, call Uken at 217-352-5235 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
More donations also are needed, Uken said, for a fall planting of trees for owners whose property isn't ready this spring.
"Generally, we've met our goal, although we're always looking for more help," Uken said.
"We're going to plant the trees, we're going to mulch them, we're going to stake them. When we leave, that tree is going to be ready to be cared for. We're also going to give them some instruction, just to make sure about maintenance for the first year or so."
Most everyone, Uken said, "has some different memories about that big shade tree in the yard with the tire swing, or sitting under it on a hot summer day, or it was the place you gathered for the family reunion picture or where you took a break after baling straw and had a glass of lemonade.
"We said what's one way we can help these individuals who have had some destruction and help them to get started again while giving them some new memories and to help rebuild the environment?"
Gifford Village Board member Dustin Ehler said residents are looking forward to the event.
"The Farm Bureau really stepped up here and we thank them for their generosity," he said. "It's going to help out tremendously and people are welcoming it with open arms."