A small army of Brimfield Grade School students took to the woods Thursday, trying to save the world one sapling at a time. The students planted 700 tree saplings and 500 prairie flowers native to Illinois as part of the second annual "Earth Day in the Parks."

A small army of Brimfield Grade School students took to the woods Thursday, trying to save the world one sapling at a time.


"What you’re going to be doing for the park today is a valuable, wonderful service," Tom Hintz, superintendent of Jubilee College State Park, told a group of about 80 first- and third-graders.


 The students planted 700 tree saplings and 500 prairie flowers native to Illinois as part of the second annual "Earth Day in the Parks."


The event is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and about 25 parks statewide participated in the event Thursday.


Eager to help and ready to learn, the students listened attentively as Hintz told them about the benefits of planting trees and taking care of the environment, especially with Earth Day coming up Tuesday.


"Hopefully, you’ll be able to come back and show your children and grandchildren and say ‘I planted these,’" Hintz said.


Students, teachers and parents took up armloads of three types of oaks — red, white and burr — and fanned out in the woods with a special digging tool called a dibble bar and went to work.


"To take care of the Earth, they have to get involved," said Christy Gore, a third-grade teacher at the school.


Thursday’s event wasn’t the first time the children have pitched in to help the environment.


Their classroom work has revolved around good stewardship of the planet, including cleaning up litter, planting flowers and practicing the three "R’s": recycle, reuse and reduce.


"It’s a fun day," said first-grade teacher Jan Doubet. "The kids get to give back to the Earth."


With work gloves and muddy knees, the students had a majority of the future mighty oaks in the ground in about 30 minutes.


"We’re planting trees to give back to the environment," said third-grader Miles Donahue. "They give us oxygen."


Third-grader Holly Streitmatter said the trees will not only help the park, but the world.


"It will be a better place to live," she said.


Planting native species of trees and plants will help stop non-native, invasive species from taking over the park, Hintz said.


Controlled burns help in open areas, but cutting and planting works best in the woods, he added.


The most important part of the event, though, is what the students learn and take away from it, Hintz said.


"I always hope they learn a little bit more about their natural surroundings," he said. "I also want them to have an appreciation for this park, and that will spill over to wherever they go."


Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or ksampier@pjstar.com.