unspecifiedBy Sue G. Collins

Rapper 8Ball wants you to stop and think about trees. “They are alive. They are amazing. Trees watch over us, they are the oldest and tallest living thing on earth. A single tree can remove more than one hundred pounds of air pollution in a year.”

He and more than a dozen other nationally recognized recording artists are part of a new project on the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum of the Eastside Trail, running from the southern tip of Piedmont Park to the Old Fourth Ward.

A collaboration between The Nature Conservancy in Georgia and Trees Atlanta, “If Trees Could Sing” aims to bring Atlantans closer to nature via their smartphones. Signs posted in front of 18 trees along the Eastside Trail offer testimonials from musicians, facts on the trees and a plug for conservation. Each small sign explains how to text for a direct link to the artists’ video and contains a QR code for instant access to the commentary on The Nature Conservancy site.

From left: Nature Conservancy of Georgia Executive Director Deron Davis, musician Doria Roberts and Trees Atlanta Co-Executive Director Connie Veates on the BeltLine.

“We are planning to add more local artists including Atlanta’s own Doria Roberts who played at the project’s recent launch,” said Deron Davis, executive director at The Nature Conservancy. “We worked hard to cross reference the trees in the Arboretum with the interests of the artists so their videos were authentic and we were careful to confirm their commitment to environmental protection.”

Roberts’ own video and tree are expected to be added this year, joining posts featuring Amy Grant, Suzy Bogguss, Taylor Hicks and Georgia’s own Chuck Leavell. In his testimonial, singer-songwriter Will Hoge explains his affinity for the willow oak, or the ‘Will Hoge oak,” as he dubs it. In his introduction to the chinkapin oak, fiddler Tim O’Brien plays a little number called “Chinkapin Hunting,” and touts the tree’s sweet acorns and urban cooling properties.

The project was first launched by The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee (home to many of the featured musicians) where there are now 11 trails in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and in state parks. To date, no other states have climbed on board, though Davis reports the Tennessee trustees were very generous sharing their established artists, project infrastructure and technology and promises Georgia would be happy to do the same.

“It’s a low cost project. We benefitted from seed money funding from International Paper’s donation in Tennessee, donated time from videographers and funding from Trees Atlanta,” Davis said. “Trees Atlanta has been an incredible partner in this project. Our missions are aligned with education and outreach and they are plugged into Intown parks, and of course with the BeltLine.”

Connie Veatch, co-executive director at Trees Atlanta, said the love affair is mutual. She saw news of the project online and reached out to Deron for a collaboration. “It’s been a lovely partnership and we would love to see more local artists involved as we expand the project, possibly up through Piedmont Park,” she said.

Trees Atlanta has planted more than 1,000 trees of multiple species along the BeltLine, along with more than 10 acres of grasses and wildflowers.

“Trees Atlanta is a wonderful partner who builds and maintains the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum in addition to their extensive educational programming,” said Paul Morris, Atlanta BeltLine president and CEO. “’If Trees Could Sing’ merges their work on the Eastside Trail with the goal to increase people’s knowledge of our native trees.”

All three organizations value connectivity for the urban population and “If Trees Could Sing” is the first Intown initiative for The Nature Conservancy, which works to protect forests, improve waterways health and ensure a sustainable future for coastal and marine resources throughout the state. Project designers worked with limitations to protect the integrity of the Eastside Trail Arboretum and paved path. Wood posts holding the signs were installed a respectable distance off the BeltLine and blend in with the natural surroundings.

So, next time you’re on the BeltLine, stop and pull out your phone and find out what trees might say if they could indeed sing.

“Seriously, what would our parks be without trees? I’m thinking, not so gnarly. …. join me and the nature conservancy to take care of our trees so our trees can take care of us,” urges 8Ball.