Model Forest turns Prince Albert green

“I was lucky,” Peter Friedrichsen says. “I grew up in Edmonton in the forest ravine.”

It’s early evening in Prince Albert, and Friedrichsen, the general manager of the Prince Albert Model Forest, leads a group of volunteers on a planting mission. By the end of the day, they’ll have a mix of Firs, Spruce, Aspen, and Birch planted across Mair Park, one of two Prince Albert locations to receive a new batch of trees.

Friedrichsen ordered 1,500 trees for volunteers to plant in Prince Albert. It’s hard, but rewarding, work. For Friedrichsen, it’s also a labour of love.

“I really enjoyed as a kid being able to walk through the forest to see what’s all there, listen to the birds and other things. I just thought it was a really peaceful and calming environment.”

The June 22 session draws an eclectic group of planters. It includes teachers, farmers, university students, and even a recently arrived refugee from Ukraine. Together, they’ll work to keep Prince Albert green, one patch of ground at a time.

“It’s fantastic,” Friedrichsen says. “It’s really great to see people come out and participate in building up our urban forest and grow the capacity, especially coming out of the pandemic.”

The Prince Albert Model Forest isn’t doing this alone. They relied on financial support from the Healthy Communities Initiative Canada, and worked in collaboration with the City of Prince Albert to identify the best places for new trees through the Urban Forest Plan.

Friedrichsen said they liked Mair Park because it’s a large, open, publicly used space that needs help sticking together. Maybe 200 meters away, a pathway used to run near the riverbank until the encroaching waters undercut the foundation. Today, the only reminder is a lone bench sitting along the edge of the riverbank with no path in sight.

“The river is slowly washing away and slumping at the edges of the park,” Friedrichsen explains. “We’re trying to get some trees here to both bring up the forest, but also retain some of the soil and prevent that slumping from happening.”

Soil erosion isn’t the only concern either. Mair Park sits in a low-income neighbourhood, and the Model Forest planting area will play a small but helpful role in providing food security.

Volunteers have planted a variety of fruit-bearing trees in amongst the traditional northern trees like the Balsam Firs.

“Some are native. Some are not,” Friedrichsen explains. “It’s just for the sake of trying to increase food security and access to health food in the City as well.”

Wednesday’s planting session is the last one planned for Prince Albert. Later this summer, the Prince Albert Model Forest will be in Mistawasis and La Ronge to help with similar planting efforts there.

Friedrichsen said they’re hoping to make a big impact.

“I think we in Prince Albert really enjoy being the gateway to the north,” he says. “Coming from the south where it’s all grass, you suddenly get up to the forest and it’s really a big change in landscape. I would really like Prince Albert to be that big treed welcome to the north for people who are both living here and visitors to the area.”

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