Highland Park Junior High School students plant trees, 1930 (Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University).
By the 1920s, much of Northern Michigan looked pretty bleak. Most of the forests that once blanketed the region were gone. The farms that followed the log drives had failed. The land was barren and abandoned.
On September 22, 1929, the Detroit News announced a plan. The people of Michigan, as individuals or groups, might participate in a program of reforestation to the cut-over, logged-off, burned-over land within the State Forest Reserves. The News set this idea in very poetic terms: “He that planteth a tree is the servant of ***, He provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.” This plan had a universal appeal.
The Detroit News made arrangements with Michigan Department of Conservation officials to plant seedling pine trees in forty acre plots as memorials. For the plantings, the News specifically selected Jack, Norway, and White pine species. These species were native to Michigan and well suited to the State Forest Reserves in which they would rest.
Under the News’ plan, any individual or organization was given the opportunity to plant forty acres or more at the rate of $2.50 an acre ($100.00 for forty acres). The State would make up the remainder of the $5.50 to $7.50 per acre cost. Each individual or group would get a sign posted on the land, showing who paid for the seedlings and in whose memory they were planted. Although the News kicked off its program only a few weeks before the collapse of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression, the project collected $20,000 within two months. It ultimately contributed to the planting of fifteen million trees with contributions from more than two hundred thousand people.
Some of the group efforts came from Michigan schools. The schools collected money from their students to plant trees. At .25 cents a student, a school could raise enough money for forty or eighty acres. Veterans groups, municipal groups and individuals gave money for trees, as well.
Michigan citizens proved enthusiastic about bringing back northern forests, and the program continued into the early 1940s. Records in the Archives of Michigan reveal long lists of willing contributors.
The Michigan VFW plants trees, 1930 (Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.).