At MCLA's Community Day of Service, volunteers got down and dirty

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NORTH ADAMS — With their knees in the dirt at Southview Cemetery, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts sorority sisters and community volunteers worked Saturday to untangle the roots of large park trees before they planted them along the road.

The group members were among the 152 residents who were participating in the college's Spring Community Day of Service.

"The roots need to be untangled so when they're planted and they grow larger they don't choke off the tree," Bret Beattie, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's tree planting coordinator, told the women.

Each year, MCLA hosts two days of service, during which members of the public are invited to participate in events that spruce up the city.

One of those assignments was planting 24 large park trees at the cemetery.

Beattie said that the coalition used this day of service to kick off the North Adams Tree Planting Initiative, which will plant about 800 trees on private and public property across the city.

Urban trees, like the red maple that the group members were planting, have many benefits, including cooling, improving air and water quality, reducing energy costs, and increasing the physical and social well-being of residents.

The group of students who participated got a crash course in landscaping from area professionals.

"You can't just plop a tree down and pour water on it," freshman Alana O'Connor said as she and her Beta Lambda sorority sister clawed away at the roots. "We've basically been at this all day."

Beattie explained that planting trees too deep or not deep enough can kill them, so it's important to be knowledgeable before giving it a go.

Through the siting process of the initiative, collaborators of the initiative based at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst determined which species of trees would work best in the roadside area. For the cemetery, large park trees like red maples, American elms and others were used.

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"The philosophy here is [planting] the right tree in the right place," Beattie said while crouched in the soil.

"I've done gardening a little bit, but not to this extent," Ashanti Thomas, a sophomore Beta Lambda sister, said after snapping a photo of the site.

Thomas, an art major, said that learning to work with landscaping allows her to expand the mediums she uses to create.

The event, of course, wasn't just for students.

At the UNO Community Center on River Street, a group gathered to do a deep cleaning of the building.

Men and women swept the floors, washed the windows, and sanitized and organized the children's area.

Matt Shiebler, who manages the center, said that he looks forward to the biannual cleaning during MCLA's service days.

The center, which has been open since 2015, hosts after-school programs, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and events for the community, he said. On May 4, there will be a "Star Wars"-themed community party, and Shiebler is glad the space will be in top shape by that time.

Betsy Bishop, of North Adams, has been participating in the event for two years. This year, she brought her 13-year-old grandson to help out.

"I'm definitely doing it next year," Xzavier Briggs, a Drury High School student, said after picking up trash in the yard.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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