April 3, 2012, is a date that will live in the hearts of Arlington residents for years to come. A tornado, producing winds in excess of 135mph, tore through Arlington – damaging more than 500 homes and apartments, and causing massive damage to the natural environment.Arlington residents, directly affected by the devastation, expressed their gratitude for the community and those who came to their aid during the crisis.“The city had a fantastic plan after the Tornado. The police blocked off all the areas that anybody could potentially come into,” said one Arlington resident. “We have lived here for 40 years, and I can’t say enough about the city – they were fantastic.”Out of what looked like a “war-zone”, citizens were aided by the Red Cross, and local food vendors; however, many residents expressed that the hardest aspect of the damage was the damage to the environment.“We lost 5 trees from our property, alone. We had a large post-oak and the tornado uprooted it, and our kids had a tree fort in the back yard that was destroyed,” said Arlington resident, Sam Shultz. “We think the worst thing to happen to us was the damage to the trees – that is the hardest part.”There was a massive loss of trees during the tornado which affected members of the Arlington community in multiple ways. Trees provide economic value to the city, air pollution removal, energy savings, clean water, increased property values, and a natural habitat for animals.Since the tornado in April, the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department has been involved in a Tornado Re-LEAF program, in which citizens could partner with the parks department to receive free trees to plant in damaged neighborhoods.Due to donations from The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, and other local vendors, the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department and Keep Arlington Beautiful made plans to host a Tornado Re-LEAF Planting Event, on November 10, 2012. During the event, local government and community volunteers would plant 1,000 trees, largely between Arkansas Lane and U.S. 287/Sublett Road and between Perkins and Kelly Elliott roads, to replace ones that were lost during the April tornado.Pete Smith, Texas A&M Urban Forestry Program Analyst, has “a lot of experience in following natural disasters around the state.” Smith was present in relief efforts for an ice storm in Texarkana in 2000, hurricane Rita in Beaumont during 2005, and then hurricane Ike in Galveston during 2008.
“I have watched those communities that are ravaged by natural disasters, come back through the act of planting trees,” said Smith. “That’s the real power of the urban trees that we’re planting.”As sponsors for the Tornado Re-LEAF program, the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation donated $40,000, Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse donated $15,000, Oncor donated $500, and local Starbucks and Krispy Kreme franchises donated breakfast to volunteers, to help make the Tornado ReLEAF Planting Event possible.James Martin High School offered their west parking lot as a base for the event, and on Friday, November 9, 2012, 75 Martin High School students helped unload the 1,000 trees and load trailers for distribution.“You just look out around Arlington and you see the beautiful trees and you know how wonderful it is,” said Kathryn Wilemon, Council Member for the City of Arlington. “We could never have this if we didn’t have all these trees.”On the morning of November, 10, 2012, Wilemon spoke to 450 volunteers saying “I am so excited to see this crowd – you are representative of our city. Your efforts today will leave a legacy that this city will remember for years to come.”Mayor Robert Cluck volunteered at the event and also spoke to volunteers on Saturday morning.“When we needed help on that night our police and fire departments were there immediately, but for the next many days, our community was there for each other,” said Cluck. “We came together to help restore people’s lives, and that’s just the way we work.Sam Schultz, and his family of 4, has received 3 new trees on their property as a result of the Tornado Re-LEAF Planting event.“This is how we felt that whole week, people coming up just offering to help,” said Schultz. “That’s the way it should be, that’s a community, and that’s why we love living in Arlington.”From November 9-10, 2012, 525 volunteers donated an estimated 2,625 hours unloading, transporting, and planting 1,000 trees for our local community. The volunteer hours provided an estimated value of $57,199, to the city. For more information, and for pictures taken at the event, please visit The City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department’s Facebook page, or contact Keep Arlington Beautiful at 817-459-5477!