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Vandalism Destroys Students'
 Tree-Planting Efforts

Susan Allen

A "person or persons unknown" ruined the recent efforts of local children to plant a grove of trees in Memorial Park. Trees planted by kindergarten children along Willow Rill were uprooted and tossed into the stream shortly after the children planted them as part of the New Forest Society's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

On April 19, 51 kindergarten students from Emmitsburg Elementary School (EES) worked with Elizabeth Prongas of the New Forest Society (NFS) and other volunteers to plant hazelnut seedlings on the bank of Willow Rill, the small stream which runs in front of the school and proceeds along Emmitsburg's southern boundary.

Kindergarteners from Mother Seton School were scheduled to plant more trees that Friday, April 22 (Earth Day.) Rain cancelled the children's planting, but Prongas and several volunteers - Richard Lind of Frederick, Scott Trexler from Rocky Ridge, and Jennifer Dotson, from the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin - intended to plant the remaining seedlings while they were still healthy.

Arriving at the site around 9 a.m., Prongas discovered that the already planted trees were gone. "I was just heartsick," she said. The soil was disturbed and it appeared that all the trees had been pulled up. Dotson and Prongas walked the area and noticed a few seedlings floating in the stream, their roots intact.

In speaking with one of the town's maintenance workers, they learned that the trees had not been there on April 21 when the man was working in the area.

Prongas and Dotson reported the vandalism to Michael Lucas, Emmitsburg Town Planner. The park property belongs to the town and Lucas has been their contact in arranging the tree planting this year and last.

Prongas called the police, despite Lucas' reluctance to involve them. The trees had been purchased with grant money from the Canaan Valley Institute, which received at least some funds from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Although the seedlings were not expensive - NFS spent $649 from its $4,747 grant to purchase 2,000 seedlings from the state nursery - the money needed to be accounted for.

And there remained the human factor as well. Fifty-one children, their teachers, and families knew the trees had been planted. The project was part of their "good citizen" efforts, and they expected to be able to see their good deed grow through the years. They would have to be told what had happened, and would need to know that someone was working to make things right.

Severance and EES guidance counselor Sarah Fawley gently told the kindergarteners what had happened. They congratulated the children for being good citizens in their community and making a good choice in planting the trees. One child said she and her mother had gone to the park but couldn't find the trees.

Severance and Fawley explained that not everyone is a good citizen, and that someone had made the bad choice to pull up the trees. They told the children not to be too disappointed, because a "new plan" (planting more trees) was in the works.

"No one cried," said Fawley. "They seemed reassured by the idea of a new plan."

The sheriff's office has requested that anyone with information about the vandalism contact Deputy Anthony LaRusso directly at 240-629-6077.