Did you know a medium-sized tree could intercept as much as 2,380 gallons of rainfall per year? Increase that number to 100 mature trees and the amount of captured rainwater equals 139,000 gallons per year. Now imagine planting thousands of trees in areas prone to flooding.
Evan Nied did. The 17-year-old resident of Virginia Beach, VA, knows the stats and the powers trees hold. He kept those numbers in mind while creating Planting Shade, a nonprofit to increase the planting and growth of trees worldwide. Initially, he founded Planting Shade in 2019 to help alleviate flooding in his hometown following Hurricane Florence.
Back in 2018, Hurricane Florence caused Nied, his family, and others in his community to flee the state. Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam issued a mandatory evacuation order for coastal residents.
“At the time, I didn’t know what to do,” Nied says. “I didn’t know the first thing about environmentalism or the forces that cause hurricanes to be so powerful.”
After the hurricane passed and Nied returned home, he contacted several environmental groups in and around Virginia Beach, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Lynnhaven River Now. Both nonprofits recommended he speak with local arborists. “The arborists told me the most effective way I could strengthen the area’s ecology and lessen the risks associated with flooding, pollution, and natural disasters is to plant trees,” he says.
“Flooding and soil erosion are huge problems,” he says. “A great way to stop this problem is by planting trees. It’s a smart idea because almost anyone can do this and it’s affordable.”
Nied explains that trees prevent erosion by strengthening our soil, which can help reduce flooding. “And there are other benefits,” he says. “Tree canopies are especially important for capturing pollutants in the air, and large trees have the capacity to house a vast array of animals.”
Going above and beyond
Initially hoping to plant 1,000 trees before graduating high school, Nied and his teams have planted seven times that many at universities, city parks, campgrounds, and on private property in Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, California, Missouri, New York, Melbourne, and Costa Rica. Plans are in the works to add four more chapters within the next year.
Through Planting Shade, he formed partnerships with state forestry centers and hardware stores to secure seedlings and donations of planting equipment. Additional support comes from corporate sponsorships, local businesses, and from individuals who purchase seedlings. He also received a grant for $2,500 from the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 outstanding leaders, ages 8 to 18, who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment.
“We chose Evan as a 2021 Barron Prize Honoree because he demonstrates many of the ideals we seek to honor in young people — things like determination, positivity, hard work, and hope,” Barbara Ann Richman, executive director of the Barron Prize, says. “We’re inspired by how he responded to the devastation of Hurricane Florence with a can-do attitude and a practical solution to help mitigate flooding. We also love how he’s inspired so many other young people to join him in protecting the planet.”
Nied credits a good part of Planting Shade’s launch and growth towards his involvement with his high school’s Entrepreneurship and Business Academy. “I was a freshman at Kempsville High School when I started Planting Shade,” he says. “I thought establishing a group dedicated to tree planting and conservation could foster community engagement and a movement toward environmentalism.”
The work took a lot of time, and yet, it didn’t deter him. Nied isn’t a stranger to hard work. He quotes his grandpa who says, “If you want to get something done, get a busy person to do it.”
Nied is a busy person. In addition to overseeing Planting Shade, he’s senior class president and a member of the varsity tennis team. “I’m also not doing this alone,” he explains. “There are other students involved. Most of us are too young to vote. This is our way of making a difference.”
Getting more students involved
“So many students want to get involved,” he says. “They just need to figure out how.”
By reaching out and leading workshops for K-12 students about the importance of conservation and environmental activism Planting Shade has grown. “I’ve learned through hard work and perseverance that anything really is possible,” Nied says. “My experience has taught me I have the power to tackle issues head-on and make an impact on my community and the world.”
With rising sea levels and weather patterns changing in Virginia Beach and in other parts of the world, Nied sees the need to plant more trees. “And it’s not just in coastal areas,” he says.
Scientists found trees soak up twice as much rain as asphalt, which reduces runoff by approximately 60 percent. The study found trees prevent flooding in forests, the countryside, and in cities.
Different types of trees and how they work
The best trees to plant are native to your area. Trees have so many attributes including reducing the flow of water and improving water quality. Trees soak up water through their roots and rid toxins and other pollutants through a process called phytoremediation.
Nied hopes to plant an additional 5,000 trees this year. Next year, he expects to hand the reigns of Planting Shade to another teen, one he’s worked closely with since the start of the program. He’s applied to a handful of colleges and is waiting to hear back.
For more information about Planting Shade, click here.