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APSU partners with Cumberland River Compact to plant over 100 campus trees

Wes Powell, Austin Peay director of landscape and grounds, works with community partners and volunteers on March 10 to plant trees on the slope between North Second Street and the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University teamed up with the Cumberland River Compact and volunteers from across the community to plant more than 100 native trees on campus March 10, and their work could have long-lasting impact on the local environment.

The project was funded through a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) grant, which was recently awarded to the Cumberland River Compact to improve water quality in the region. Trees were planted in six locations: two near Emerald Hill Apartments; two behind Morgan Brothers Soccer Field; one between the Marks Building and Fortera Stadium; and one beside the McCord Building’s parking lot.

“This is to help our community as a whole by improving the water that goes into the Cumberland River, which three million people use per day,” Wes Powell, Austin Peay director of landscape and grounds, said. “We focused on planting trees in areas that are on steep slopes or near driveways and parking lots to help with stormwater runoff.”

Austin Peay is located near the juncture of the Cumberland and Red rivers, which means nearly all its stormwater runoff reaches those bodies of water. Powell said the new trees will help intercept rain, filter pollutants and manage soil erosion.

“Emerald Hill specifically sees a lot of runoff from water coming in off the street,” Reghan Pierce, forestry program manager, Cumberland River Compact, said. “There aren’t too many trees in this ditch area, and you can see how much water comes through by looking at all the divots - during heavy rainfalls, this area will flood. These trees have specifically been chosen because they soak up a lot of water, so they will help mitigate those impacts in the long term.”

Campus and community volunteers focused their efforts on the slope between North Second Street and Emerald Hill while contractors worked in the other locations. Dr. Chris Gentry, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, spent the afternoon planting trees with his family.

“It’s great because we get to help out the Cumberland River Compact and demonstrate what stewardship of the earth means for our son,” Gentry said. ”He’s only 11 years old, so he’s starting to get an appreciation of how the watershed needs to be maintained in this area to provide healthy drinking water. Right now we’re making sure to put these trees in the ground in such a way that they’ll survive and be maintained for years to come.”

TVA volunteers also contributed to the project, which was carried out as part of Austin Peay’s official Arbor Day celebration.

“This beats sitting in an office chair any day of the week,” Nick Morris, TVA’s southeast region manager of reservoir, land use and permitting and the floating cabins program, said. “I feel like this is one of those rare opportunities where you get to do something to make a difference, and hopefully 30 years from now I can drive by this spot and see these trees 30, 40 or 50 feet tall and doing their job.”

Powell said he enjoyed seeing people from across the state volunteering their time for the project, and that their efforts will benefit the entire community.

“I’m always looking for areas to plant trees, and typically we like to plant at least 30-40 every year,” he said. “We always make sure to plant more than we have to remove so that we keep a positive tree count on campus … I hope this will help our area out, and that the outreach we’ve tried to do will educate people in Clarksville and different areas of Tennessee on the importance of keeping our urban tree canopies moving forward.”

Austin Peay is an official Tree Campus USA, as designated by the Arbor Day Foundation, and has an arboretum with hundreds of tree species spread across its grounds.

For more information, contact Powell at powellw@apsu.edu.