May 12, 2021

REGROW THE GROVE: Small community whose trees were damaged by derecho gets chance to replant

Lambs Grove receives more than 100 saplings from DNR to disperse to citizens

Lambs Grove didn’t stand a chance against the derecho. The tiny community west of Newton is home to a few hundred people and about as many trees. When 100-mph wind gusts swept through most of Central Iowa last year, those mighty oaks toppled to the ground, their branches torn to pieces.

More than eight months after the storm, the uprooted trees lay still in the dense thicket behind mayor Pat Edwards’ home. Their massive trunks — some of which are still pinning down electrical wires — have now formed bridges for the local wildlife, rather than blocking residents from entering or leaving the grove.

Those still standing are beginning to show signs of life. Tufts of green leaves have sprouted from Lambs Grove’s tallest trees. Below them are the trees-to-be, small saplings Edwards and his wife, Cathi Fouts, have planted on their property in an effort to regrow the population lost from the derecho.

More than 100 saplings have been provided to Lambs Grove at no cost, the result of a program the community’s mayor and city council applied for more than a month ago from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The Iowa DNR State Forest Nursery delivered six species of trees to disperse.

Residents have their pick of hybrid willows, red oaks, scotch pines, shellbark hickories, silver maples and white oaks. The Lambs Grove City Council allowed citizens to claim their trees ahead of time on social media. They have since been hand-delivered by city officials. Edwards said there’s still plenty left.

During the next Lambs Grove City Council meeting — beginning 6:45 p.m. May 6 — officials will have the remainder of the saplings available for residents to pick up by Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Any leftover trees will be planted near the elementary, Fouts said.

The people of Lambs Grove are proud of their trees, which obscure some homes from the nearby traffic along Old Highway 6. For being so close to a highway, it’s a strangely quiet place at times. Fouts, who is also a city council member and the town’s tree steward, is just happy to replace the lost trees.

“We started talking about it last fall,” Fouts said. “And it’s a lovely program.”

Lambs Grove suffered “significant tree loss” from the derecho. Edwards estimated the town lost “well over a hundred trees,” in addition to the many property damages. His home in particular lost about 10 full-sized trees, which he said was a “fairly typical” amount for many of the affected households.

The storm, however, was anything but typical for Iowans, many of which had likely never heard of the term derecho before August 10, 2020. Unlike a tornado, this storm couldn’t be tracked or followed in the usual sense. The wind was strong enough to uproot, knock over and flatten anything in its path.

Edwards remembered how a downed tree fell onto his home’s gas line.

“So we had leaking gas just pouring out, and of course that generated an emergency call. They came, but they couldn’t get down the street,” Edwards said. “Probably within a half hour they had moving equipment out unblocking the streets so the gas company could get down.”

Meanwhile, neighbors’ roofs were punctured or completely destroyed by fallen debris. Several streets were blocked for up to a week or longer after the storm hit. Edwards said the community responded well to cleanup efforts, and like many around the state had chipped in with chainsaws and their bare hands.

The Iowa Department of Transportation removed about 90 percent of the derecho debris from Lambs Grove, Edwards added, which was a big help. Most of the downed trees have been cleaned up by now, but there are still residents with broken utility poles in their backyard.

Tree stumps are prevalent, too, a reminder of the damage that ensued this past summer. With the community’s new stock of saplings, those stumps will — in time — be overshadowed by the new generation of forest. It may take a few decades for the trees to mature, but Edwards said it’s a worthy investment.

“We have quite a few trees left, and they’re only going to last for so long,” he said. “We really want to get them into the ground.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.