As climate change tightens its hold on the planet, trees are emerging as ecological warriors. They cool urban neighborhoods. They filter pollutants from the air. They suck carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas responsible for warming the planet—from the atmosphere. And their root structures and surrounding soils absorb rainfall and prevent floods.
But because of decades of disinvestment in lower-income communities, trees are not equitably distributed in this country. Thankfully, Trust for Public Land was selected to receive a $10 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service to fund tree plantings and nature-based solutions in American schoolyards. The money comes from the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forest Program, which reaped more than $1 billion through last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
According to Beattra Wilson, the program’s assistant director, “The Urban and Community Forestry Program’s national pass-through partners are critical to the success of our IRA grant program, as they stand ready to help us expedite funding to underserved communities that lack sufficient tree canopy and are in greatest need.” On TPL’s selection, she adds, “The Trust for Public Land was a natural choice due to their track record of making public green spaces live up to their potential through their Community Schoolyards initiative. We are excited to partner with TPL to transform schoolyards across the country.”
In fact, schoolyards are often overlooked. Typically fashioned from asphalt, with an outdated piece of play equipment or two, they can easily become overheated, giving schoolchildren scant protection during recess. Through its Community Schoolyards® initiative, Trust for Public Land has targeted hundreds of schoolyards for renovation, from Atlanta to Los Angeles, filling the spaces with cooling tree canopies, garden beds, and other absorbent materials and opening them to the surrounding community after school hours and on weekends.
Converting asphalt schoolyards into colorful spaces teeming with trees, gardens, artwork, and play features—as TPL did at Alejandrina B. De Gautier Elementary School in Brooklyn—yields all kinds of benefits for students and the wider community, centering on health, education, climate, and park access. Photo: Alexa Hoyer
“This initiative seeks to address the pressing challenges of extreme heat and climate change by changing the systems of how school grounds in disadvantaged communities are designed, maintained, and stewarded for student learning and community use,” says Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land.
Support our work addressing climate change through natural solutions such as transforming asphalt playgrounds into vibrant, green community schoolyards.
Most of the $10 million awarded to TPL will pay for tree plantings, tree care, and related educational programs in numerous schoolyards across five metropolitan areas: Salem, Oregon; Concord, California; Mesa and Chandler, Arizona, and Auburn, New York. In addition, more than $3 million will go towards trees in other communities that have yet to be identified.
TPL was one of 385 nonprofits, community groups, Native American tribes, universities, and municipal and state governments whose grant proposals were selected. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the Forest Service, the agency received 842 applications requesting a total of $6.4 billion in funding.
“It’s really exciting that schoolyards were recognized,” says Danielle Denk, TPL’s Community Schoolyards initiative director. “This is an amazing investment in making communities more resilient through nature-based solutions. But what’s really telling is that there was more than $6 billion dollars requested, which demonstrates the urgent need to do more of this.”
Protecting tree-covered landscapes has been fundamental to TPL’s mission since its founding 50 years ago. We have conserved 4 million acres thus far, and while not all of that land is forested, it nonetheless stores almost 175 metric tons of carbon—equivalent to the emissions from burning 72 billion gallons of gasoline.
In cities across the country, parks can be cooler by more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit than surrounding areas. Other research has shown that this cooling effect extends up to half a mile from a park’s boundaries. Additionally, parks and public lands play a crucial role in fighting air pollution, since trees are able to capture and absorb both particulate matter and toxins through their leaves.