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The original mission of the Creative Enterprise Zone was to attract and nurture businesses and entrepreneurs in this largely industrial pocket on St. Paul's western border.

But leaders of the grassroots neighborhood nonprofit realized that for the area to truly flourish, they needed something else: trees.

"This is one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the city of St. Paul. That means it needs to be hospitable to people," said Ben Shardlow, vice chair of the Creative Enterprise Zone board, who is overseeing an initiative to plant 100 trees annually in public areas that lack ample canopy. "For us, it's really just fundamental. It's hard to imagine the successful growth of our corner of St. Paul and the city more broadly unless we can figure out how to maintain and grow the tree canopy."

The Creative Enterprise Zone is among a growing number of St. Paul neighborhood and community groups planting hundreds of new trees on public and private land under the dawning realization that local governments simply can't keep up.

St. Paul plants around 4,500 boulevard trees and a few hundred park trees annually.

"Especially with the budgetary strains we have faced in recent years due to the Emerald Ash Borer crisis, community partners have played a vital role in caring for St. Paul's urban canopy," said Clare Cloyd, spokeswoman for St. Paul Parks and Recreation, which includes the city's forestry department.

The Hamline-Midway Coalition has recently started raising dozens of trees each growing season in a newly constructed gravel bed at the Friends School of Minnesota. The group, drawing inspiration and support from Frogtown Green, is focusing its efforts on adding trees to private property. Neighbors can request a tree be planted in their yard, free of charge.

"Our forest canopy is actually a critical part of the urban infrastructure," said Sarah Wolbert, who is on the Hamline-Midway board and helped establish the tree program. "It's a living system though, so it's complicated to maintain."

Nurturing new trees goes well beyond neighborhood window dressing. Trees improve the overall health of a community, providing a cooling effect in urban areas where concrete and buildings spike temperatures in what are known as urban heat islands, Shardlow said.

The Creative Enterprise Zone raised $10,000 to launch its tree program and invested another $8,000 in equipment, said Executive Director Angela Casselton. The nonprofit is working closely with St. Paul's forestry department to select locations for trees, while continuing to rely on individual donations and in-kind support.

Adding trees to the mostly industrial and commercial Creative Enterprise Zone has posed a host of challenges, Shardlow said.

"There's often a reason trees aren't there in the first place," he said.

Decades of industrial and railroad activity in the area means conditions are not optimal for growth. Soil conditions can be poor, especially with historical pollution and dumping —Shardlow described putting shovel to ground and hitting a pile of buried nails. Overhead power lines pose another challenge.

Selecting species that are resistant to pests and disease and can thrive in a less-than-hospitable climate is important. They're planting swamp white oaks, Kentucky coffee trees, crabapples and disease-resistant elms, Shardlow said.

Once planted, keeping the trees alive poses another hurdle. About 30% of the trees the Creative Enterprise Zone has planted have died.

The group purchased a watering trailer this year, which they use to water and check on the trees each week. Every Wednesday, Shardlow and a small group of volunteers attach the trailer to a borrowed pickup and cruise the neighborhood, stopping to fill large vinyl water bags wrapped around the bases of new trees.

Part of the reason the trees are so thirsty is that most rainwater doesn't soak into the ground in this area — rather, it hits pavement and rooftops and is swept away in storm sewers.

"This is all hardscape," Shardlow explained.

On a recent excursion, Shardlow and the crew stopped in front of Bang Brewing Co. on Capp Road to water and inspect several small oak trees planted between the road and the railyard. They were all about about eight to 10 feet tall. One had a smattering of small green leaves.

"This one has a chance," Shardlow said.

Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo, owners of Bang Brewing, allowed the Creative Enterprise Zone to establish a gravel yard on their property last year to grow trees before they're planted in the ground. This year, the couple is helping water and tend to the saplings.

"Any action that moves us toward more greening is beneficial," Sandy Boss Febbo said. "We are a dedicated organic brewery. Land and water stewardship is central to what we do and it's central to our community."

Though 100 trees a year may not seem like much — especially when some don't make it — Shardlow said he's playing a long game. A 70% survival rate will equal 700 additional trees by decade's end that are cooling, cleaning the air and improving the neighborhood.

"Mature trees are a very significant public resource," he said. "There is no dollar figure you can put on it."