ATHENS (AP) — The tornadoes that hit Limestone County and much of north-central Alabama on April 27, 2011, not only destroyed lives and homes, but much of the state’s vegetation.
Decades-old trees that stood in yards and unpopulated areas of the county were uprooted or broken like twigs. And, while many homeowners have rebuilt or moved elsewhere, evidence of the storms on the landscape is still visible in southwest Limestone and along and north of U.S. 72 in east Limestone.
Statewide, the Alabama Forestry Commission estimates that 177,857 acres of forestation was damaged or destroyed on April 27. In Limestone County, approximately 2,068 acres of forest was damaged or destroyed. The total statewide value of the damaged forestation was $228,360,576.
With a little help from state programs, two groups are working to replacing trees that were felled in the storms.
Thanks to an Alabama Cooperative Extension System grant, three red maples were recently planted at the site of the county’s tornado memorial on U.S. 72, just west of where a tornado demolished Bethel Church of Christ. On hand to help plant the massive trees were 4-H junior leaders.
Betty Ann Broman of the local ACES offices said Limestone was one of several counties to receive dozens of trees from a grant submitted in Cullman County. One of the stipulations of the grant is the trees had to be planted in public places, one of which is the tornado memorial.
Three other locations to receive dozens of trees from the grant are Limestone Correctional Facility, Blue Springs Elementary School and the Limestone County Technical School.
“We’re just very excited about this,” Broman said. “It’s going to be a nice touch to the memorial.”
The prison, which was hit by a tornado on March 2, 2012, received a shipment of trees in December. About eight to 10 trees will be planted at the career tech center, while Blue Springs hit the veritable tree lottery.
Though not directly affected by the April 27 tornadoes, Broman said the school qualified for the trees under the terms of the grant. Since the school opened in 2010, it has received few landscaping flourishes.
School principal Randy Hamilton said 39 trees were recently delivered to the school, and it will receive about 20 more crepe myrtles later this winter.
“The school was built in an open field, so we have no trees on campus,” he said. “We’re just trying to soften the landscape and add to the school’s appearance.”
Hamilton said it’s unlikely any of his students will be planting the trees because the root balls weigh about 300 pounds each. However, he does plan to include the kids in the process, which will give them a sense of ownership in the project.
Another statewide program, the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign, will distribute more than 5,000 seedlings to Limestone County residents on Feb. 16. The program is being sponsored by the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Arbor Day Foundation.
The seedlings, which will be distributed by volunteers with Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful, will consist primarily of Crape Myrtles, black willows, flowering dogwoods, American hop hornbeams and sycamores. A smaller quantity of other trees will also be available.
The purpose of the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign is to replace trees lost due to the April 2011 tornadoes and provide citizens with a way to participate in the recovery of urban forest through donations and volunteer service.
The Arbor Day Foundation set up a donation web page where anyone in the country can make a donation. For every dollar donated, the Arbor Day Foundation gives the state a seedling, each of which is 2- to-4-feet tall. Residents who would like seedlings are asked to fill out an order form before arriving.