Lucille Taylor, head of Parkway Towers Resident Association, Tree Foundation president Betty Brown, and Towers resident Bryant Bonds at the first planting at Parkway Terrace   in December 1986.

Lucille Taylor, head of Parkway Towers Resident Association, Tree Foundation president Betty Brown, and Towers resident Bryant Bonds at the first planting at Parkway Terrace in December 1986.

Tree Foundation's roots go back to Tennessee's Homecoming '86

Nashville Tree Foundation owes its existence to Homecoming '86, Governor Lamar Alexander's statewide, yearlong celebration in 647 communities across Tennessee.

Inspired by the success of planting 1,986 trees, the Special Projects Committee of the Davidson County organization unanimously decided at a meeting on March 5, 1986, to investigate the possibility of creating a foundation to insure the continuance of the tree planting project and the philosophy of recreating the urban forest with Betty Brown to serve as president.

Special Projects Committee chair Ann Thomason, Brown, and Joan Armour, another member of the committee, presented a proposal at the Metro Tree Board April 16, 1986, asking for its participation and cooperation if such a foundation were formed. The proposal was enthusiastically received with unanimous approval for participation. Tree Board members Alice Ann Barge and Justin P. Wilson volunteered to serve on the committee developing guidelines and charter. Board member Buck Allison offered assistance and a $100 donation for the new foundation.

At the initial meeting of the organizational committee May 2, 1986, were Buck Allison, Joan Armour, Alice Ann Barge, Betty Brown, Ann Thomason, Justin Wilson, and Eleanor Willis, who had chaired the Davidson County Homecoming '86 celebration.

During the brainstorming session, It was decided on the name, Nashville Tree Foundation, and its purposes:

  • To educate the public to recognize the need for maintaining a proper balance between commercial development and the natural environment
  • To recreate Nashville's urban forests
  • To raise funds to implement the goals of the Foundation.

Wilson, an attorney, filed the charter on May 7, 1986, which was granted May 16, 1986. Officers elected were Betty Brown, president; Joan Armour, secretary; Justin Wilson, treasurer; and Alice Ann Barge, Ann Thomason, and Eleanor Willis, members of the board.

The new board met May 14, 1986, with Victor Johnson of Aladdin Industries, who had long been interested in establishing a similar "Century III Plan" that included planting trees in public places. After Wilson succinctly described the newly chartered Tree Foundation, Johnson agreed that the goals were similar and offered a $10,000 donation.

With $10,100 from Johnson and Allison, The Nashville Tree Foundation decided its initial projects would include planting trees in public places where no other funds were available, designating arboretums, and establishing a tree inventory with an annual big old tree contest.

In the fall of 1986 in cooperation with the Metropolitan Development and Housing Development, the Foundation planted 12 red maples at Parkway Terrace and replaced crabapples on Shelby Avenue.

The first big old tree contest was held in 1987 with winners honored at the first High Tree Party in 1988.

Twelve years later the Foundation had a quick decision to make when a disastrous tornado struck down 20,000 trees in April 1998. In a matter of hours, the Foundation made the decision to form ReLeaf Nashville to replant 5,000 of the trees, and to raise a million dollars to make it happen. Seven months later with the money in hand or pledged, 800 volunteers planted 989 trees in neighborhoods and on church and school grounds with Metro Parks personnel planting another 450 trees in public parks and golf courses.

The five-year project raised $1,031,111 and planted 6,757 trees in three years instead of five. In the fourth year the Foundation replaced 150 trees that had not survived and planted 50 trees along Main Street as part of a Streetscape plan.

With an active corps of dedicated volunteers, the Foundation continues its annual tree planting on the Saturday before Thanksgiving with ReLeafing Day in different neighborhoods and areas.

The goal for the next 25 years remains the same: raise the funds to plant trees, educate the public, designate arboretums, and sponsor the big old tree contest with its popular High Tree Party.