More than 1,000 trees have been planted in parks across Michigan in recent months as part of the state’s “Happy Little Trees” program, named after late painter Bob Ross’s famous catchphrase.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has teamed up with Bob Ross Inc. for the program, which the department says was inspired by its state parks system’s centennial anniversary year.
The effort, which was previously known as the state’s “prison grow” program prior to the partnership, enlists volunteers to collect seeds from healthy trees that are at risk in parks across the state, according to a website for the program.
Those seeds are then placed into the care of inmates in prisons in the state, who the program refers to as “‘trustees’ of the seeds.”
“Because the seed source is from within the ecoregion of where they will finally be planted, the trees retain the unique genetics of the area,” the program’s website explains. “This helps the trees survive each ecoregion’s unique conditions.”
“For example, the genetics of a tree growing in Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan likely are vastly different from trees growing near Fayette in the U.P. Even though you may find red oaks growing in both locations, the local genetics are better adapted to the local conditions and will increase the likelihood of survival,” it continued.
After the inmates’ seeds sprout into saplings, and later into what the program calls “treenagers,” they are then distributed to volunteers who go on to replace damaged trees at local parks with the new ones.
According to The Smithsonian, nearly 40 prisoners have participated in the program this year, helping plant trees in 22 parks across Michigan. The trees have sprouted up in parks across the state since May, it reported.
The program said that the inmates who participate in the effort “gain skills in the nursery and horticultural industries” and “work hands-on with educators in the facility to germinate, grow and care for the trees, becoming adept with the ‘tools of the trade.’ They also learn about Michigan’s native tree species and techniques for growing containerized tree stock.”