Leaving Green Footprints: The Northeast

Phew, the first two months of Green Footprints have been a whirlwind! My name is Austen Hughes, and just in case you’re dropping in for the first time, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m traveling around the country in my green VW van named turtle, planting 50 trees in every state and running a mile for every tree planted– a total of 2,500 miles and 2,500 trees! The goal of the project is to inspire everyone to take small ‘steps’ to make their environmental Footprint a little more Green. I’ve been on the road since early September, and have seen and learned a whole lot already! Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far.

After picking up my first batch of Blue Spruce seedlings in Saratoga Springs, NY, and a bit of trial-and-error to determine the best digging technique, Turtle and I ran and planted our way through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. All of the tree seedlings in these states were either planted in protected areas that wouldn’t be harmed by landscaping, pollutants or development, or were taken by some of the awesome people I’ve met on the road! Everywhere the iconic green van shows up, people have been asking about the curious logo on the front spare tire—and once hearing about Green Footprint’s mission, have pitched in to help! Dozens of trees were planted in the yards of these supporters and volunteers, who will tend to the seedlings and ensure they grow up to healthy, strong, mature trees. It’s been really amazing to see the enthusiasm engendered by the message we’re spreading, and the impact it has on everyday people to make positive and sustainable changes to their routine. In the spirit of sustainability, I’ve also managed to keep our trash to just under 12 ounces per month, and have produced no edible food waste.

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But of course, as the saying goes, the adventure doesn’t start until something goes wrong. After planting fifty trees in Massachusetts, Turtle began refusing to start, and a few days later, a worsening pain in my hip turned out to be a torn ligament. With a bit of troubleshooting, I was able to get the van started weakly, and limp farther south where I could find a mechanic– who wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong. Similarly, my legs didn’t seem to be getting better, and frustration began to set in. I was forced to put a pause on traveling, running and planting for a few weeks, which was a pretty tough pill to swallow. But through all the frustration, I focused on the positive impact I’ve seen Green Footprints have on everyone I’ve encountered on the road so far; because the main goal is not just to run and plant trees, but to encourage and educate people to make environmentally responsible decisions in their own lives.

After lots of mechanical troubleshooting on the van, rehabbing of my legs, and a new ignition coil, we were finally about ready to hit the road again; the only thing left was to pick up a new batch of seedlings. But the weekend before I went down to the North Carolina Forestry nursery in Goldsboro, NC to pick up the trees, Hurricane Matthew barreled through the southeast, causing devastating floods that destroyed many people’s homes. The nursery lost untold amounts of trees and plants, and they are still assessing the damage as we speak. Best of luck to them as they rebuild!

Fortunately the Arbor Day Foundation’s fall shipments begin in just over a week, and Green Footprints will be back planting in no time! So far I’ve run 250 miles and planted 250 trees in New York, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. All of the running and planting was accomplished in the first three weeks of September, so we’re a little behind schedule due to the setbacks, but with a little luck everything will be back on track in no time.

If you’d like more details about the journey, feel free to follow along with Green Footprint’s blog here, as well as on Instagram. If you’d like to contribute to Green Footprints, contact me to donate— every $1 donated plants a tree! And we’d love to hear from you– feel free to comment below on the ways that you’ve taken steps to make your Footprint a little more Green!

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