The Rotary Peace Forest | Regional – ECM Publishers

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For more than 20 years, Brooklyn Park has been designated as a Tree City USA.

Now, thanks to Rotary District 5950, Brooklyn Park is designated as the home of the Rotary Peace Forest.

Rotary District 5950 covers Minneapolis, its western suburbs, and west central Minnesota. The Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center Rotary Clubs are located within Rotary District 5950.

On Saturday, May 1, over 150 Rotarians gathered in Brooklyn Park’s Central Park for their annual District Conference. The conference honored the hard work performed by Rotarians during the 2020-21 Rotary year. It also recognized District Governor Tom Gump for his leadership through the pandemic over the past year.

District Rotarians also embarked on a service project- the planting of the Rotary Peace Forest in Brooklyn Park’s Brookdale Park.

There, in a collaboration with the St. Paul-based Tree Trust, the two organizations set out in a living testament to the Tree Trust’s mission: Transforming Lives and Landscapes.

A Rotary district grant helped fund the planting of the Rotary Peace Forest, as did a district governor’s grant from Tom Gump. Twenty-one District 5950 Rotary clubs made generous contributions towards the project, as did seven individuals.

In all, 82 trees were planted in four zones within Brookdale Park. The trees were already 8-feet tall at the time of planting. The Tree Trust will care for the trees for next two years.

The Rotary Peace Forest was born out of the social unrest in the Twin Cities during the summer of 2020.

Rotary has been a leader in the worldwide effort to eradicate polio and the formation of the United Nations. 

When George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, Rotary was presented with an opportunity to be a leader in addressing systemic racism.

“It presented a stark inflection point to examine racial equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice,” Gump said.

Rotary District 5950 teamed with the YMCA Equity and Innovative Center to presented to local Rotary members a three-part workshop called “Racial Equity: Creating a Better Story” that addressed unconscious bias and racial equity in Minnesota. The series, moderated by James White of the Triangle Area YMCA in North Carolina, was a means to write the future of clubs within Rotary District 5950, as well as the future of Minnesota.

Following the series, stakeholders within the Rotary community sought a call to action. That call to action came through the District Conference.

“We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a fancy venue and meal that would be gone afterwards,” Gump said.

“We wanted to do something that would have an impact,” he said.

At about the same time, Andrew Ramirez of the Minneapolis Uptown Rotary Club and Bill Sierks of the Edina/Morningside Rotary Club were embarking on District 5950’s first environmental sustainability projects under Rotary International’s newest area of focus, supporting the environment.

Ramirez and Sierks, co-leads of the Rotary Peace Forest project, helped a number of Rotary clubs mobilize and get approval for a district grant to plant trees in an historically under-resourced communities with low tree canopy areas. Brooklyn Park fit the bill.

In February, it became apparent that because of concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rotary District Conference would need to take on a look different than the traditional indoor banquet.

District conference planners came together with Ramirez and Sierks and the concept for the Rotary Peace Forest was born, Ramirez said.

Lisa Jacobson, a Brooklyn Park city council member and member of the Brooklyn Park Rotary Club, called the tree forest a perfect gift from Rotary to her city.

The gift of the trees, valued at well over $35,000, will help create cleaner air,,provide shade and improve the quality of the park.. Trees also help teach the story of how we’re rooted & why we can reach so tall, she said.

The benefit of the Rotary Peace Forest to Brooklyn Park will be a decrease in air and water pollution, a decrease in heat stress and related hospitalizations, and an improved wildlife habitat, Ramirez said. It will also provide one more place for people to get in touch with nature.

Greg Hoag, Park & Building Maintenance manager for the City of Brooklyn Park, added that the Rotary Peace Forest will also be great in supporting the existing ash trees located within the city.

James White, the YMCA program facilitator, was in Brooklyn Park for the district conference and tree-planting.

He noted how he marveled at spending a day with Rotary, an organization that his parents in Elizabeth City, North Carolina could not join because of the color of their skin.

White noted that the planting of the trees was a symbol of the seeds of change that Rotary was planting in the Brooklyn Park community.

Karen Zumach, Director of Community Forestry for the Tree Trust. In her teens, Zumach said she was a Rotary Youth Exchange member who spent a year studying in Belgium.

Zumach said that for the planting of the Rotary Forest, not only was her organization providing the trees, but all the tools, mulch, and instructional training to plant the trees.  

Tom Gump and Suzi Howe, a Rotary International Director from Friendswood, Texas, teamed to plant a tree in the Rotary Peace Forest.

“I couldn’t have been more happy to see everyone planting trees for a sustainable project that supports Rotary’s new seventh area of focus,” Gump said.

Ramirez says that the success of the Brooklyn Park tree project has resulted in plans to embark on a similar tree-planting project in another Twin Cities community in 2022.

In addition to the Rotary Peace Forest, a peace pole was erected in Brooklyn Park’s Brookdale Park.

The peace pole recognizes the planting of the Rotary Peace Forest and Gump’s year as district governor. The peace pole includes the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” That message is on all four sides of the pole, in the four most common languages spoken by Brooklyn Park residents: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Lao.

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