Scouting for cedars

Hundreds of trees planted along Yellow Dog River

Ian Parkkonen, left, a Life Scout with Troop 302 in Marquette, and Cedar Tree Institute Executive Director Jon Magnuson lead a tree-planting session Saturday along the Yellow Dog River. About 500 trees were to be planted for Parkkonen’s Eagle project. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — Sometimes getting a tree to grow goes beyond just sticking it into the ground and hoping it grows. There can be a greater meeting, ecologically and spiritually.

For Ian Parkkonen, his tree-planting project is definitely an education.

Parkkonen, a Life Scout with Troop 302 in Marquette, serves as a project leader with a special environmental restoration project called, “Healing the Earth.” It also is his community Eagle project.

The goal was to plant about 500 northern white cedar tree saplings along the banks of the scenic Yellow Dog River in Ishpeming Township.

The effort was spearheaded by the Cedar Tree Institute and in partnership with the Interfaith Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards.

“I chose this project because we have a very low population of northern white cedar trees, and I felt like it’s best we plant more,” Parkkonen said.

Some planning had to be completed before the project began, and that meant educating himself on the task at hand.

First, they had to choose the spot — the Yellow Dog River — and then ready the young trees for planting.

“We had to bundle them and give them water so they would survive over the night,” Parkkonen said.

The watering isn’t over.

Parkkonen will have to return to the site to keep the saplings from drying out.

“They don’t have to be drenched in water,” he said. “They must be at least wet and damp.”

Jordan Mattarella, volunteer assistant project leader with the cedar-planting effort, also is involved with the Cedar Tree Institute and the Water Stewards.

The institute, she said, sponsors the Water Stewards.

“We are an environmentalist group, a faith-based initiative to establish a collaborative partnership to protect, monitor, restore and sanctify the lakes and rivers of the Upper Peninsula,” Mattarella said of the Water Stewards.

One of the planting dates for the cedar project was Saturday, with volunteers gathered in the parking lot of Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette before their trek to the Yellow Dog.

“The reason why we picked cedar trees is because they’re actually more endangered than other trees because they take so long to grow,” Mattarella said. “The loggers like to cut them down, so we’re going to plant this rare tree. It’s going to help purify the water. It helps filter the water, and we have a lot of toxins and pollution in our water, so we’re hoping this will be just a step to eliminate our footprint and help the earth.”

She said the trees were donated, plus many of the volunteer planters donated $5 a tree.

Mattarella stressed that the Water Stewards are faith-based.

“A lot of people are, like, ‘What does that mean?'” she said.

What it means is that the group has a Lutheran pastor and a Buddhist priest who work together, but other religions, such as the Jewish, American Indian, Episcopal and communities, are invited to “unite for the Earth,” as Mattarella put it.

After Parkkonen and the volunteers arrived at the Yellow Dog site along Marquette County Road 510, there were a few things to learn, such as dipping each sapling in the river to moisten it before planting.

A little culture was in order too, with tobacco rubbed on saplings since the plant still is an important part of American Indian spirituality.

“All you need is a pinch to put on your trees,” said CTI Executive Director Jon Magnuson, who helped lead Saturday’s event.

The project had the distinct advantage of taking place at a beautiful site, what with the Yellow Dog Falls situated a short walk away from the starting point.

The group was broken down into teams, each of which had a bucket and a shovel to plant approximately 30 saplings.

“When we’re by the falls, you’re going to watch each other,” Magnuson said. “There’s no down time once we start, but nobody’s going to hurry either, so you’ve got to find what I call the sweet spot. Do not hurry. Bow often.”

For more information on the CTI, located at 403 E. Michigan St., Marquette, visit or call 906-228-5494.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is