Seedlings will act as a riparian buffer for the Cypress Branch which flows to the Chester River and then to the Chesapeake Bay

It was 32 degrees with a stiff wind Saturday morning at the Blackbird State Forest near Townsend.

The cold weather didn’t stop volunteers from planting tree seedlings, which will make the forest more beautiful, help the wildlife and protect the environment.

The weather improved a little the next day and the volunteers finished their work. Over the two days, more than 418 volunteers planted 8,700 tree seedlings on Harvey Straughn Road in the Blackbird State Forest near Townsend.

To make the volunteers warmer on Saturday, they were given gloves, coffee, and doughnuts. Most the trees were planted on Saturday, even though it was colder on that day.

“This is a nice time to plant the trees, the early spring,” said Michael Scuse, state secretary of agriculture. “The spring rains will come and take seal around the plants and supply adequate moisture and get the trees to a really good start.”

The trees create a riparian buffer to protect the nearby Cypress Branch and they provide a wildlife habitat, stop soil erosion and prevent nutrients from running into the creek, Scuse said.

The project was cooperative partnership between the Delaware Forest Service, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental (DNREC), and the Girl Scouts of the USA.

It cost about $20,000 for the seedlings, which was made possible by a grant from DNREC, which obtained a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Caroline Dowd, a student at the MOT Charter High School in Middletown, coordinated the event to fulfill her requirements for her Girl Scout Gold Award. She talked about the event on Saturday with the media.

“This project has so many amazing possibilities. This project is not only going to decrease the carbon footprint of Delaware, it’s also going to improve the water quality. It’s going to improve the air quality along with creating a riparian buffer,” Dowd said.

“I’m here to help the environment and make an impact and also educate all the people I can about the environment and making the world a better place,” she said.

Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long spoke at a news conference at the site. Before becoming lieutenant governor, Hall-Long was a member of General Assembly, representing large rural areas.

“I wanted to come home and back to what really matters, our environment, our community, all being here with you [and] the children,” Hall-Long said.

“It’s so heartening and exciting to stand among your family members, the community leaders, our secretaries to come out from both DNREC and AG and, most importantly, to stand behind our future leaders like Caroline” Dowd, Hall-Long said.

Of the 8,700 trees planted over the past weekend, most are eight different kinds of oak species and 100 of them are persimmon trees, said Michael A. Valenti, spokesman for the State Forest Service.

Persimmon trees, he said, produce a golf ball-sized fruit which are bitter in the spring, but the birds love them in the fall.

The Blackbird State Forest, located on the border of New Castle and Kent counties, is Delaware's northernmost state forest.

The 10 tracts of Blackbird State Forest are open year-round at no cost to the public for nature walks, hiking, jogging, and horseback riding, according to the state’s website.

The Delaware Forest Service’s northern regional office is located on the Tybout Tract at 502 Blackbird Forest Rd., Smyrna. Phone: (302) 653-6505.