Tree Planting in Popular Park Aids Hurricane Recovery in Lake Charles

Driving through the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Jacob Garland still passes too many houses with what has become a local symbol of need — a blue tarp on the roof. Eighteen months ago, Hurricane Laura — a Category 4 storm tied as the strongest to ever make landfall in Louisiana — devastated the area. In a cruel twist of fate, Hurricane Delta struck the same area six weeks later.

“A blue tarp on a house means significant roof damage. It also means a year and a half later, they still haven’t gotten the help they need,” said Garland, an Army veteran and mission assurance manager at Northrop Grumman’s Lake Charles site. He should know. He and his wife and three children lost their home in the hurricanes. They were able to rebuild. Others are still waiting.

While blue tarps are still a commonplace sight, one thing that isn’t is old growth trees. With sustained winds of 150 mph, Hurricane Laura uprooted and stripped thousands of trees all over the city. Damage to the tree canopy means environmental impacts like less shade and temperature moderation, reduced rainfall mitigation and diminished carbon dioxide reduction.

trees planted in park
Tree Planting in Popular Park Aids Hurricane Recovery in Lake Charles

“Trees are something you really take for granted,” said Robin Camp, a supply chain procurement analyst. “I never really thought about it before, but now, when you look out over the woods, it’s just naked. It looks like a completely different place and it’s going to take years to replenish.”

To help, Garland, Camp and 22 of their colleagues spent an unseasonably cold morning earlier this year planting trees at Mary Belle Williams Park. A small patch of open space and playground in the center of Lake Charles, the park is named after a local principal who dedicated her life to ensuring local children had equal access to education, regardless of their skin color.

The park lost multiple 100-year-old trees in the storms, so volunteers focused on planting 15 live oaks and 15 cypress trees, as well as numerous shrubs and native grasses.

Northrop Grumman originally partnered with Lake Charles in 2018 through a grant from the Partners in Parks Initiative established by the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. The original intent was to sponsor enhancements and STEM activities at the park, with Northrop Grumman pledging monetary and volunteer support every year for five years. After the hurricanes, the focus shifted to park restoration and supporting #ReTreeLC, a citywide initiative created to replant trees around Lake Charles.

“Our community has given a lot to us. This was an opportunity to give something back.”

Ted Authement, Northrop Grumman quality engineer

“Parks are a vital component of quality of life for any city, because they are a safe space for families to gather, play and exercise,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “We’re thrilled about and appreciative of our partnership with Northrop Grumman. Their support is leading to much needed upgrades to Mary Belle Williams Park, which is heavily used by neighborhood residents. Their commitment to our city is appreciated and impactful.”  

During the tree planting, Garland said the neighbors seemed excited about the effort. “While we were working, people were driving by and honking their horns. They seemed to appreciate what we were doing. Made me feel like we were already making a difference.”

Fellow volunteer Ted Authement, a staff quality engineer, agreed. “There is a school directly across from the park. Every day now when the kids are walking past or stopping to play, they’ll be able to see a change.”

The tree planting was organized by the Lake Charles chapters of the Veterans, Employees and Reservists Inspired to Act and Serve (VERITAS) and Connect1NG employee resource groups. Site Manager Michael Flatt was pleased by the turnout.

“It felt good to work together as a team on this,” he said. “Our community has given a lot to us. This was an opportunity to give something back.”

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