South of Sam Mazza’s Farm Market in Colchester, a dirt road cuts a dusty path leading up to Pine Island Farm. Behind the picturesque buildings and the pens of bleating goats, green fields peppered with dandelions roll up to the banks of the Winooski River where the Colchester-Milton Rotary Club volunteered to plant saplings on Thursday, May 17.

The restoration project, organized by Burlington’s Intervale Center, was to enhance a previous sapling planting on the same plot of land in 2014.

Volunteers, also from and Vermont Gas, were greeted by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who were occupied dragging sleds full of sapling bundles across the soft earth of the fields to the planting site a few hundred yards away.

There, a small blue tent was erected, and Intervale conservation nursery manager Mike Ingalls gathered the Rotarians in a circle to go over the basics of sapling planting: Pull out saplings that didn’t take, dig holes for new ones, press fresh dirt around the new plantings, making sure to pack down any air pockets, and stake a support tube around the plants.

Fifteen minutes later, the group made quick work of turning the soft loam and setting up the saplings, the words “Rotarian at Work” always in the field of vision.

At this point in their life, each future tree looks simply like a fragile-looking collection of sticks, but the saplings that survive will grow to help scrub the air of greenhouse gases and provide a root system to help stave off erosion. These results are especially poignant to the Rotarians who took on the effort as part of a challenge from Rotary International president Ian H.S. Riseley of Australia.

“The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is, and must be, everyone’s concern,” Riseley said at a Rotary event in San Diego last year.

According to the Rotary website, this is where Riseley challenged the group to plant a tree for every member over the Rotary year which begins and ends on July 1.

Though the efforts will cover the 45 members of this local Rotary club, this is not the first arboreal project the group has donated to. Earlier in 2018, the local Rotarians planted five trees at the Porters Point School in Colchester in conjunction with the Branch Out Burlington project.

“Those were much larger, 10 to 15-foot tall trees,” Rotary community service co-chairman Aaron Glosser said. “We wanted to also plant trees that had purpose now, that could already start providing shade.”

“We also don’t see this as the sort of project that ends with the year,” added local president Kevin Endres of Milton. “We hope to bring similar projects to Milton next year.”

These words from Endres get to the heart of Riseley’s challenge.

“It is my hope that the result of that effort will be far greater than the environmental benefit that those 1.2 million new trees will bring,” Riseley said in his address. “The greater result will be a Rotary that recognizes our responsibility not only to the people on our planet, but to the planet itself.”