Trees for Sacred Places: People of faith restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed one tree at a time

November 29, 2015
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Montgomery County congregations, faith based retreat centers and schools are being good stewards of the earth by planting trees through the Trees for Sacred Places program offered by Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC). The program reflects a unique collaboration between a faith-based organization, IPC, and an environmental group, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. It is funded by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and managed by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Two of the participating Montgomery County faith communities are Covenant United Methodist Church (UMC) in Gaithersburg and Am Kolel Sanctuary Retreat Center in Beallsville. Last year’s event drew families, a Boy Scout troop, and local community members to plant 50 trees on the Covenant UMC’s grounds. The tree planters learned what the Bible says about water, trees and earth stewardship. They also found out about their Potomac watershed, the condition of the Chesapeake Bay, and how trees contribute to the restoration of our local waters.


Church members planting a tree

Carolyn Blough (left) and Rebecca Stonebraker (right) help plant trees at Covenant United Methodist Church.


The communities of Am Kolel and Kehila Chadasha celebrated their first harvest festival Sukkot this year by planting 70 trees on the property of Am Kolel Sanctuary Retreat Center in Beallsville. After the planting, Rabbi David Shneyer, Am Kolel’s leader, declared: “Thank you for coming out yesterday for Sukkot and the Tree Planting.  Your teachings were excellent and very much appreciated.”

Join these congregations that have already put their faith into action! By planting trees your congregation or institution can also contribute to the state and county goals of restoring the Chesapeake Bay and our local waters by reducing stormwater runoff. If the grounds of your congregation or faith based institution (retreat center, camp, or school) has an area large enough to accommodate 30-60 trees, and you would like to learn more about how to participate, please contact Bonnie Sorak, Outreach Coordinator for IPC at:

The program offers:

  • Free native trees
  • Planting plan design considering local topography and soil types and in consultation with your congregation
  • Planting Day training of volunteers on how to plant trees
  • Spiritual and Environmental Workshop on the teachings of your faith tradition about care for Creation and the environmental benefits of tree planting to watershed restoration


People planting trees

Rabbi David Shneyer plants trees at Am Kolel Sanctuary Retreat Center.


Trees for Sacred Places has worked with 45 congregations and other faith-owned properties to plant over 10,000 trees so far. Trees offer significant benefits to reducing the number one source of polluted water from urban and suburban areas: stormwater runoff. By planting trees, stormwater is both channeled into the ground and filtered, thus preventing soil erosion and stopping further pollutants ending up in our local tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay, and is evapotranspired, sending clean water vapor back into the atmosphere.

Trees are important because of all the following ways they restore the environment:

  • Restore wildlife habitat: Reforestation provides homes and food for native plants, animals, and birds to flourish. A native oak tree provides food for 534 species of beneficial insects and small mammals.
  • Filter pollution: In one day, one large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air. For every five percent of tree cover added to a community, stormwater runoff is reduced by approximately two percent, increasing the cleanliness of water for all human and other-than human inhabitants.
  • Prevent soil erosion: Tree roots hold soil in place, and tree branches help lessen the impact of rain on the soil. Fallen leaves improve soil quality. Forests act as reservoirs, providing natural flood control.
  • Conserve energy conservation & mitigate climate change: A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and can sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating.


Guest blog by Kolya Braun-Greiner, Program Manager, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake

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