Voices from Home: The Huntington Beach Tree Society plants trees for the community

In Features, Lifestyle
A woman from the Tree Society drives a wheelbarrow full of tree parts down a dirt path.
(Caitlin Bartusick / Daily Titan)

The city of Huntington Beach often brings to mind a picturesque coastline landscape tucked close to suburban life and manicured lawns. Forests are the last thing anyone would ever expect to find themselves in when wandering around the area. But only two miles from the shoreline lies the Urban Forest in Huntington Beach Central Park, an expanse of 2 1/2 acres where 7,000 trees have been planted all by one local nonprofit, the Huntington Beach Tree Society.

Jean Nagy is the president of the Tree Society and a retired resident of Huntington Beach. She started the nonprofit in 1998 with a group of volunteers in the community, and ever since, they have dedicated their weekends to planting and maintaining trees in the park.

“When my husband was transferred here to Huntington Beach, I couldn’t get over how few trees there were, and this is like over 20 something years ago. We were coming from Northern California where it was quite lovely,” Nagy said.

Urban Forest is what Nagy calls “a little piece of nature heaven.” It is located on the backside of Central Park and is part of a plan to create a natural trail from Central Park to the shoreline.

Throughout large parts of the area, drought-tolerant and native plants are dispersed and wildlife is never too far to be seen. Nagy receives trees every year by filling out grants to the state of California.

On a typical day, only a handful of volunteers, mainly older women, are helping Nagy. On occasion, Eagle Scouts or high schoolers volunteer their time. Nagy has unyielding optimism for the future of the program despite the uncertainty of what will happen with the nonprofit once she is gone and the looming fear of development on the land.

Nagy meets with people who work for the Huntington Beach City Council twice a month. Although they sometimes provide assistance in the form of water, they are not always able to provide the funds to maintain it. That’s where the hard work of volunteers like retired musician Stephen Campbell, and his wife, Tracy, come into play.

“Nagy wears a lot of hats. She has to play the politician and everything else to keep this going,” Stephen Campbell said. “I would like to think someone will fight for this place and keep fighting for this place.”

Nagy said she thinks volunteering at the Urban Forest provides an opportunity to feel connected to the city and to nature. She said there is something special about having a forest within a city, and the impact it has on visitors is indescribable.

“There’s a feeling here that you have to come to get the feeling,” Nagy said. “The visual feeling, the quietness, the closeness to nature that you get that you will never get, and you don’t hear a car. Then you just zip home. You’re not on that 405.”

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About 40,000 students are enrolled at Cal State Fullerton. They come from communities in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Some commute long distances to get to campus. The series Voices from Home tells stories about the people and places that make their communities unique. These are some of their voices.

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