After the Storm: A Joplin Update

Kelly Prater’s front-yard oak tree is far from tall and majestic.

Small and lonely would be a better description of the solitary sapling that has staked its diminutive claim on an otherwise treeless lawn on the south side of Joplin. However, a drive through the neighborhood reveals Prater’s sprouting oak isn’t as alone as it appears to be. Many neighboring yards are adorned with similar-sized young trees in the beginning stages of growth. Collectively, these trees are encouraging signs that Joplin’s storm-battered urban landscape,and the city as a whole, is on the road to recovery.

“The trees will make this area look like a home again,” Prater says.

Prater’s sapling, along with the two in her backyard and those in her neighbors’ yards, are among the more than 8,100 donated trees that have been planted thus far in one of the largest and most ambitious urban reforestation efforts in the state’s history. The goal is to restore the forestry component to an area that was destroyed by the May 22, 2011 tornado. This multi-agency effort includes the City of Joplin, Missouri Department of Conservation, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, a number of local, state, and federal entities, and many civic groups and individual volunteers. Trees are being planted in Joplin and Duquesne, a small community east of Joplin that also experienced significant storm damage.

Extensive damage

The EF5 multi-vortex twister reached a maximum width of more than a mile as it cut its destructive swath through the city on a Sunday afternoon. The storm caused 161 deaths, 1,100 injuries, and approximately $2.8 billion in property damage.

Recovery from this tragedy has been difficult, but ongoing. From the outset, storm-affected residents and city officials were in agreement that tree planting was a necessary part of the community’s recovery plan,according to Joplin Planning and Community Development Manager Troy Bolander.

“I believe there are a couple of reasons why residents directly affected by the tornado have been so enthusiastic about the reforestation of their neighborhoods,” Bolander says. “First, it helps create a sense of normalcy of how things looked prior to the tornado. Second, the replanting of trees really does signify the rebirth of our community.”

Clearing and cleanup

In many places, the first step toward recovery was removal. Department of Conservation foresters, contract foresters, and volunteer arborists pooled their efforts with U.S. Forest Service Urban Forestry Strike Team personnel to assess damaged trees and