April is National Safe Digging Month and that brought to mind Friends of Trees. Since 1989, Friends of Trees has planted more than 450,000 trees throughout Oregon. So they’ve done a lot of digging and discovering.
FOT focuses on four key benefits of trees – conservation, community, health, and money. For example, tree shade can help cut energy costs in the summer by 30% and trees increase the value of our homes. Tree-lined streets calm and slow traffic – creating safer neighborhoods and happier people. Anyone who lives in Portland has seen the brightly colored FOT signs posted near newly-planted trees. All trees are sorted and categorized for sustainability, adaptability, maintenance and beauty.
In August, after two of our flowering cherry trees bit the bullet, I contacted FOT about volunteering and purchasing two trees for our front strip. On an unusually sunny day in January, I finally got to plant about a dozen trees in our neighborhood and in front of our house with a group of volunteers and it was a lot of fun. Planting takes place in the winter so our rains have a chance to soak the trees thoroughly.
This month, I contacted one of FOT’s most illustrious and oldest volunteers, Conan Harmon-Walker, to see what unexpected treasures have been dug up over the years:
A couple dozen marbles -- usually given to kids as presents (usually).
A horseshoe that was dated 1860.
Rail spikes in the bottom of a hole planted in the vicinity of 81st and Powell, a stretch of Portland that’s home to many, many small motels and used car lots.
A buried stash of pennies, around 200 of them, from the 60’s. The Boy Scouts split them up.
There was some excitement over digging up an old small animal skull which appeared to be a small deer. It looked like all of the rest of it was probably down there, though mostly under the sidewalk.
Digging Up Dangers
Sometimes digging uncovers hidden dangers. “The most hazardous discovery was a buried barrel of what I was later told was dry cleaning solution,” said Harmon-Walker. “One of the planter’s shovels popped through the top of the rusted through barrel, and we quickly roped off the area, called the head crew leader and abandoned the site to ensure safety for our volunteers. The city was contacted to address it, of course. I heard later that there were a few barrels that were removed.”
FOT recommends contacting the Oregon Utility Notification Center to ensure that there that there is no hidden electrical, gas, or sewer lines near dig sites. Their slogan is, "Call 811 before You Dig! Dig Safely Oregon.”
It is the responsibility of homeowners to identify the location of their irrigation pipes prior to the tree planting. Utility locations are prepared for gas and communication lines prior to the planting, but FOT isn't responsible for locating irrigation lines. FOT provides homeowners with resources for how to move or fix an irrigation line.
Get more information about identifying, storying, transporting, and disposing hazardous waste that may eventually be dug up with Graphic Products' free Hazardous Waste Management Guide.