“Trees need people. People need trees. Welcome, Carl!” 12 students chanted while trying not to slip down a precarious, dry slope under the beaming Ojai sun. They were gathered around a tiny, freshly planted oak tree that they named in honor of Carl Cooper, headmaster of Ojai Valley School’s Upper Campus.
This past Saturday, Ojai Valley School became home to 34 new coast live oaks, each named and welcomed as they were planted on a long, steep slope beneath the main classroom building at the Upper Campus.
The planting, on the heels of Arbor Day, was done in collaboration with Ojai Trees, a non-profit association founded in 2008 to maintain the health and beauty of the environment in Ojai, specifically the topiary.
“It was hard work, but it was worth it,” senior Nakita Moler said. “I named my tree Jake, and if it grows to be really big and tall one day, and I come to visit OVS some time, I’ll think, ‘Hey, I planted that tree!’ ”
Ojai Trees co-founder Garrett Clifford, the father of three OVS alums, tirelessly works to maintain the health and inventory of the valley’s community forest.
“We realized that the urban forest in Ojai was predominately aging oaks and other natives, and that it was in less than good health,” Clifford said, joining a handful of Ojai Trees volunteers at OVS on Saturday to help with the planting. “We needed to start planting if we want to continue having the trees we currently have in the Ojai Valley 50 years from now. If we plant trees today, 50 years from today we should still have the canopy.”
To that end, OVS has launched a significant forestation plan for the Upper Campus that will meet several goals.
In addition to further beautifying the campus, the newly planted trees will help stabilize the hillside on the north slope below Burr Hall, keeping the classrooms and the library on top of the hill, instead of possibly sliding down on to the soccer field below.
The forestation effort is part of a larger, environmentally proactive plan at the Upper Campus designed to replace existing grass areas with a drought-tolerant landscaping that will reduce water use for years to come, said Mac Lojowsky, the school’s director of facilities and grounds.
Over the next few months, Lojowsky and his crew plan to remove 12,946 square feet of turf between the Cooper house and the girl’s dorm. That area will be retrofitted with a new irrigation system, and will be beautified with decomposed granite walkways and 120 various types of drought-tolerant plants.
The project will hopefully be completed in about six weeks, Lojowsky said.
“This is a major project,” he said. “It’s going to immediately look nice, and it’s going to really look nice in about two years, and then incredible in about 20 years.”
Ultimately, the school hopes to advance its sustainability goals by becoming a net zero emissions campus, and the drought-tolerant plants, which will lower water use, will help move it toward that goal more quickly.
Two years ago, the OVS Upper Campus installed 1,001 solar panels on the south-facing side of the hill. Those panels now provide about 95% of the electricity needed to operate the school, according to Technology Director and environmental science teacher John Wickenhaeuser.
The panels allow the school to nearly be net zero with carbon emission.
“These trees early on, in their first 10 to 15 years, won’t do very much in terms of carbon capture,” Wickenhaeuser said. “But because they live to be 300 or 400 years old, once they get beyond 15 years, they start taking in carbon really rapidly. This is a long-term, down the road benefit from a carbon standpoint.”
In addition to reducing the carbon footprint, the project will beautify the campus to its students, faculty, and prospective families.
“One of the things about the Upper Campus is that it’s a stunningly beautiful setting for the school, so there’s not much you need to do to really enhance that,” Tracy Wilson, the school’s director of admissions and marketing, said. “But some nice landscaping and planting some trees for the future so that kids will continue to see a really beautiful school is important, and this is going to go a long way to accomplishing that.”
The current students at OVS are excited to see these plans develop.
“I am excited because it is saving water that we can use for other things,” senior Jenna McIntosh said. “And because we are in a drought, I think it is appropriate to stop watering the grass.”