By Brooke Shafer

MIAMI (CBSMiami) –  Making the 305 greener, one tree at a time. That’s essentially what Miami Dade County’s Million Trees Miami Program set out to do.

The program started in 2011. It has given over 6,000 free trees to residents and facilitated countless tree planting events since. Gaby Lopez is the Community Image Manager at Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation. She heads up the effort and explained why trees are so important and how they are the ultimate multi-taskers.

“They add to our biodiversity as habitats for animals and they’re beautiful to look at it of course. When there’s a storm here in Miami, that we have so frequently, trees are really great at absorbing the stormwater. They are the first line of defense in terms of wind resistance, so these trees actually act as a natural barrier for the wind that could maybe save our canopy, could save our equipment, and if it was your house, it could help with that as well,” Lopez stated.

They also create shade that helps keep playground equipment cooler, like where we met Lopez and a planting event sponsored by TD Bank as part of the Growing Green Playgrounds at Wild Lime Park in Kendall.

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The mission, a decade in the works, is the brainchild of former Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss who championed it in 2011 as part of the Neat Streets Miami Program and declared that the “goal is to plant a million trees by 2020.”

“He wanted Miami-Dade County to reflect a world-class image that it was something beautiful for residents, for visitors, and he has worked tirelessly to that end,” said Lopez.

The program deploys national and local organizations, sponsors, and volunteers to host tree plantings and giveaways. Lopez shares how trees have other jobs too. When planted along roads they act as traffic cops, sort of.

“They make you more aware of the parameters of the street, so you actually slow down and you’re driving a little safer because you’re more aware of your lane,” she said.

Improving the canopy throughout the county is a constant process; as young trees mature others are felled by storms. Tracking the areas that need trees is done by using a satellite and getting residents involved is key.

“We need residents to come out, be engaged, learn how to properly plant. To be interested and then they will teach that to their kids, and their kids will cultivate trees as well.  So, it is a cycle that really adds to a lot of the work that we’re doing. We couldn’t do it without the national organizations that we work with, like the Arbor Day Foundation, National Forest, and Keep America Beautiful. And then there are the sponsors that either come through there or reach out to us directly, that are local in the community. We just want to say thank you and please keep asking for more trees.”

Their next tree giveaway is on February 13th at Tropical Park.

For more on how you can get involved just visit their page here.