On Saturday at Heritage Park in Slidell, the early bird got the tree. All the remaining little birdies will just have to wait. Organizers of the Hike for KaTREEna event had hoped to give away 1,000 trees over a three-hour period, but instead they ran out in 45 minutes.
Offering eight types of trees, including Japanese Magnolias, Red Maples and even Cypress trees, all that was left after a half-hour were a handful of Natchez Crepe Myrtles. More events are scheduled for Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes next month and for Jefferson in January.
The group, led by Connie Uddo, secured a grant from the Apache Corporation and is partnered with the National Football League as part of its Super Bowl Environmental Projects. In doing so, Hike for KaTREEna expects to break Dallas' record of planting 5,000 trees two years ago by offering 7,000 by Feb. 2, the day before the NFC and AFC champions face off in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
While Uddo expected to be able to give its allotted trees away Saturday, she didn't expect them to be all gone so soon.
"I am totally amazed by this kind of turnout," she said. "What makes you feel so great about this is that it's wonderful that people want these trees. I think after Katrina, people were afraid of trees. As an organization, we've actually had a hard time planting some of New Orleans neighborhoods. When you get a turnout like this, I feel as if people are coming around and see the importance of trees."
The non-profit group was founded in 2006 by Monique Pilié, a former New Orleans resident who wanted to help the metro area after it lost 100,000 trees in Hurricane Katrina. She decided to hike the Appalachian Trail and vowed to plant a tree for each mile she traveled. Within four years of hiking from Georgia to Maine, she surpassed her goal of 2,175 trees by nearly seven times and handed the reins of the group in 2010 to Uddo, who says Hike for KaTREEna will plant its 20,000 tree before the Super Bowl.
"We need these trees for so many reasons," Uddo said. "We need them for shade, they beautify the neighborhood, and trees are symbolic for restoration and healing."
And St. Tammany Parish residents were grateful Saturday morning, with some showing up to 45 minutes before the event's planned 9 a.m. start. By 9:30, there wasn't much left.
"My daughter-in-law went to this tree giveaway in New Orleans last month, and she called to remind me about it because she knew I thought it was great," said Vernessa Bradford of Slidell. "I got a white crepe myrtle because unfortunately that's all they had left. I did not expect it to be this popular. I love this. I have always wanted more trees, and this is a great way to make that happen."
For more information and specific dates of upcoming events for Hike for KaTREEna, visit http://hikeforkatreena.com.