In 2018, the Branches and Banks tree planting program appeared to have run its course.

Flip forward to 2023, and a renewed vigor has seen it soar to new highs for the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee (CEAS)

In two days, over 200 volunteers planted 2,200 trees near the Bow River across from the SLS Centre.

Friday, May 12 was the largest of the two, with volunteers from Garmin and Chevron coming together with students from five schools. Some town staff were there as well as representatives of Spray Lake Sawmills and town council.

Belsey classStudents from Bil Belsey's grade 5/6 class from RancheView School. (photo submitted)

Teacher Bill Belsey's grade 5/6 class of the RancheView School initiated their own Cochrane Arbour Day last year and successfully had white spruce declared the official tree of Cochrane. This year, Belsey and a crew of 20 students joined the CEAS event.

"Physically, emotionally, and actually, we planted seeds and look at what's happened. Wow, look at this. All these other kids from all these other schools joining us this year. It's amazing what we started. It's so cool to see this little idea that we had grown into something wonderful."

Tessa Morrison, a grade 5 student in his class, was anxious to take part in the planting after learning about it the year previous. It's also part of their school curriculm.

"We learned a lot about trees, and last year, Mr. Belsey's class did a slideshow to present to the Mayor of Cochrane. So we watched that, too."

Howard and PaulSLS field forester Paul Hebrada and Howard Pruden, SLS HR/Community Relations manager.

Spray Lake Sawmills provided the class about 300 white spruce, and did the same last year.

"We love engaging with the community and there's nothing better than seeing young folks out there planting trees and giving back to the environment, so this is right up our alley," says Howard Purden, SLS HR and Community Relations manager. "You know, we plant about 3 million trees a year, and this is some of our seed stock from 2006-07."

The seedlings have been growing in their nurseries for the last few years, are now 8 to 12 inches in height, and are ready to be planted.

'Towards the fall they'll start to have a root flush again and then next year they will start to grow."

Janden Talen's ROAMS (Rivers, Oceans, and Mountain School) students from Cochrane High were there Friday and more students were coming on Saturday with teacher Stephanie Bennett.

"I think it's a beautiful opportunity for students to get their hands dirty and see other people also doing things in a positive manner and then also not just doing things aimlessly," says Talen.

He believes it's valuable for his students to see how plants natural to the Eastern Slopes, that are capable of withstanding drought and Chinook conditions, are being utilized in a purposeful manner.

MattiasMattias Vetterl.

Mattias Vetterl came on his own to pitch in because he has concern for the environment. The young man was ambitious and hoped to plant upwards of 100 trees.

EmilyEmily Curthoys, vice president of asset development for Chevron Canada.

Chevron Canada brought a crew of about 20 volunteers to pitch in. Emily Curthoys, vice president of asset development for Chevron Canada. says the experience was an awesome learning experience.

In the photo above, she's laying down some of the hemp pads being tested by CEAC. They're designed to help the trees thrive in thick grass that can stifle their growth.

After about two years they will biodegrade and become part of the compost enriching the soil, explains CEAC president Tim Giese.

Mayor Jeff Genung saluted CEAS on its 25th event. Over 50,000 tree have been planted since Branches and Banks was created in 1996.

"Oh, it's amazing to see so many volunteers step up again," said Genung. "We've got a beautiful morning, smiles on everybody's faces and everybody's just eager to get to work and plant some trees. And it's in such an open area, too. When we drive to the rec centre and cross the bridge, we can watch these trees grow over the years."

CEAS president Giese says Branches and Banks came about when a sustainability plan was being prepared for the community. As the meetings progressed, some of the members wanted to physically put sustainability plans into action.

As for the name...

"I kept playing with it in my head, then all of a sudden it came to me that we're planting right along the banks, and then trees have branches, so it became Branches and Banks."

He says some people instantly think of financial institutions, and not about planting trees in the riparian.

"I never would have thought that. People who are into trees or riparians never would have thought of financial institutions, so the name has stuck."

It was a phone call out of the blue from Garmin officials that brought Branches and Banks back to life last year.

"Garmin contacted me last year and asked if we were doing a tree plant. I said, I'm not sure, but if you're interested OK. We thought since we were going to do a corporate one, we gotta do a public one. That's what happened last year, and then we've been building on that success.

"This is incredible," he says, looking around. "This is amazing."

Garmin once again had a large crew out for the event.

"We had a lot of repeat customers," says Carla Hagel, Garmin HR lead. "Lots of people enjoyed it last year, and they wanted to do it again this year."

Cows and FishMaddy Skinner, left, and Kathryn Hull, of Cows and Fish, were on site during the Saturday public planting event.

About 70 people participated in the Saturday community plant. On hand were representatives of Cows and Fish.

Kathryn Hull, a riparian/range specialist with the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, better known as Cows and Fish, says they've been involved with CEAS for years as well as other riparian stewardship projects across the province. She says organizations like CEAS are crucial to protecting the health of the riparian.

"We need more of that across the province and people taking care of their own backyard. Certainly, CEAS has been fantastic over the years in organizing these events year after year. The more little trees, poplars, and willows that we've got along these areas, the healthier they are. So it's so important."

"They absorb and store water and recharge our aquifers, and that's gonna be more and more important with the climate change threats. So, by helping these areas stay resilient we can face the flood and drought threats that we'll have in the future. Protecting these areas is so important for many reasons." 

They were onsite providing information on wetlands and riparians, including species at risk like Alberta's native trout. They also had a wealth of information on best management practices.

Giese says they had hoped to plant 2,500 trees but fell a few hundred short. The other 300 seedlings are being used in a riparian restoration project in south Calgary.

The majority of the funding is provided by CEAS, thanks to funds raised for their Cochrane Farmers' Market. This year they provided $13,000, up from $10,000 last year.

A smaller grant was also received by the town from the Trans Canada Trail.