Program to spread trees throughout Bay and Saginaw counties takes root

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy is branching out to speak for the trees.

The SBLC, based at 706 S. Euclid Ave., began planting trees in Bay and Saginaw counties last fall in response to the shrinking number of trees in the two communities. SBLC Executive Director Zachary Branigan says experts believe the tree canopy should cover about 40% of the community. Instead, Bay City's tree canopy stands at 17%. Saginaw's canopy stands at 23%

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy staff hopes to grow affordable trees to get into private land and increase the size of the canopies covering Bay and Saginaw counties.The problem stems from multiple sources. Trees are expensive, which often puts them out of reach of individual landowners. Right now, they’re also in short supply. Pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer devastated some populations. Municipalities today often plant fewer trees than in the past.

Whatever is causing the shortfall, Branigan says the tree canopy might matter more than you realize. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says trees reduce peak temperatures in the summer, alleviate air pollution, increase property values, create wildlife habitat. and improve social ties in neighborhoods. Trevor Edmonds, Director of Land Protection for the SBLC, adds the root system of trees also helps absorb stormwater, reducing the risk of flooding.

An innovative trail inside the park uses permeable pavement that allows water to pass through the paved walkway. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Branigan)The SBLC is combating the problem and could use your help.

First, the SBLC created Better Branches, a program that saw the SBLC and its volunteers plant about 1,000 trees this year on vacant lots and public property in Bay and Saginaw counties. That increases the canopy, but planting trees on vacant lots also is a proven way to reduce illegal dumping and similar problems.

The goal for about half those trees is to create a steady supply of trees to distribute to private landowners. The trees will need two to three years before the first can be harvested. After harvesting the trees, Edmonds says he plans to plant new trees to keep the program going.

Branigan says he plans to make it as easy as possible for individuals to buy the trees.

“The idea will be to make it extremely affordable,” Branigan says. “If they’re for sale, it would be at a bare cost minimum. The idea is to try to get more trees into private landowner’s hands.”

Volunteers planted about 1,000 trees throughout Bay and Saginaw counties this spring as part of an initiative to increase the tree canopy in the area. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Branigan)Private landowners are critical to success. Branigan says even if trees were planted on every piece of public property in this area, it wouldn’t add up to the 40% coverage experts recommend.

“It’s the private landowner trees that are significant,” he says.

You can see the results of the tree planting efforts around Bay City in parks including Maplewood, Wenonah, Veterans, and Carroll. The largest example of the project, though, is at Riverbend West, a recently-developed park on Bay City’s West Side. The SBLC is planning a grand opening for the park from 1 to 6 p.m. June 9.

Riverbend West park and nature area is a joint project between the city and SBLC. The City of Bay City has owned the property for 25 years, but development of it began just three years ago.

Map courtesy of the Saginaw Basin Land ConservancyThe rustic 8.5-acre park, located at 480 Marquette Ave., includes an accessible trail from Marquette Avenue to a viewing space next to the Saginaw River. The innovative trail was designed and constructed with the watershed in mind, using permeable pavement to allow water to pass through the paved trail.

Along the trail, interpretive signs, benches, and boulders invite visitors to enjoy plants native to Michigan.

When you walk through the park, you’ll find beneficial pollinators as well as a grove of about 115 trees planted thanks to a grant from Hemlock Semiconductor. Private donors Al and Joy McFadyen also donated money to plant an additional 25 trees near the grove. Al McFadyen worked for the city in 1997 when the city acquired the Riverbend property.

The project shares parking with Defoe Park and the Infinity Skate Park.

If you want to help the Better Branches program, visit and purchase a tree to be donated to the SBLC. About 20 trees have been donated through that program this spring. Edmonds hopes to get more donations to plant trees this fall and next spring.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at