Presidio High School students lead tree planting project 

Students from Presidio High School spend a chilly November day planting trees around Presidio. ​​From left to right- Clarisa Villagran, Miara Luz Santo Domingo, Abdiel Bustamante, Karla Valdivia, Ramon Rodriguez, Alfonso Saenz. Photo courtesy of Ramon Rodriguez.

PRESIDIO — Last month, students from Presidio High School planted a first round of trees in Presidio as part of a larger Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) initiative to increase tree equity in the Big Bend. Fifteen students spent a chilly Saturday driving around town to help neighbors plant important new additions to the local ecosystem. 

Tree equity refers to the idea that everyone should have access to tree cover, regardless of race or income — tree cover has a wide array of benefits for humans and animals, not least of which are cooling shade, improved air quality and habitats for local and visiting species. The Big Bend region used to have more tree cover, but that declined historically as the region was settled. Research in Big Bend National Park suggests that that decline has accelerated in the past decade.

The BBCA’s tree equity project is underway in Marfa, Alpine and Fort Davis. In Presidio, Rosalinda Peña of the Big Bend Community Action Committee helped sign up around 60 locals who were interested in the program. Last month’s tree planting session fulfilled around a third of that number, but is a positive sign that Presidians are excited about the project.

Beyond the eventual environmental benefits of the new trees, the students who participated in the project benefited from a day of volunteer service. Presidio High School doesn’t have a formal community service requirement, but students hoping to make the cut for the National Honor Society have to complete 20 hours of volunteer work a year.

The students found the project rewarding in other ways, too. “I’ve always wanted to do something for my community and volunteer more,” said sophomore Karla Valdivia. “It seemed like a really good chance to help out.”

Last month’s planting wasn’t without its challenges — the Saturday the students slotted for the project happened to be the coldest day in Presidio this year, with a high in the mid-40s and a chilly wind. The students huddled together in one vehicle as they traveled from house to house. 

The process of planting was relatively straightforward. The students would call each tree recipient to confirm that they still wanted their tree planted and get a rundown of exactly where they wanted the tree to be placed. Then they dug holes in the ground to stage the trees and filled the hole with mulch and fertilizer before watering the new trees for the first time. 

Freshman Miara Luz Santo Domingo learned some gardening back home in the Philippines, where her family planted tomatoes, eggplants and other staples. The tree planting project in Presidio taught her a lot about her new hometown. “I learned that there’s a lot of different kinds of soil in Presidio — some of it would be hard and some of it would be soft,” she explained. “I also learned about [identifying] different types of trees.” 

The students offered tree recipients a choice of chinquapin oak, mountain laurel and elm, chosen by the BBCA because of their hardiness and ability to survive the region’s temperature extremes. Each family who signed up for the program was also provided with a care sheet, providing guidance for how to water and tend to their trees each season. 

Everyone who participated was left inspired by the chance to serve their communities. Both Santo Domingo and Valdivia expressed that they were excited to seek out other volunteer opportunities — and use their newfound planting skills. “I learned that it takes some work, but it gets easier the more you do it and it gets more fun,” Valdivia said.