Volunteers help out with tree recycling

LAWRENCEVILLE - The evergreens stacked 12-feet high on Gwinnett Technical College's front lawn Saturday were a veritable jungle gym for the teens and adults who clambered all over them.

The discarded Christmas trees made the air smell like pine, and a fire in a barrel nearby provided a much-needed escape from the cold winds that whipped through the air.

But volunteers ignored their red and runny noses as they heaved tree after tree into one of four chippers, recycling the old trees and goofing off with friends.

"There's a little wrestling; it's a little rough; it gets fun," Meadowcreek High School junior Keegan Nicodemus said. "It overcomes all the cold weather and the wetness."

The school's Volunteer Center Adviser Laura Kohnke said about 35 Meadowcreek students came out to help Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful with their annual "Bring One for the Chipper" campaign, a 22-year-old project that recycles Christmas trees into mulch to use in the county's schools and parks.

Executive Director Connie Wiggins said there were more than 40,000 trees at the site Saturday morning and as many as 80,000 trees would be recycled in Gwinnett alone by the project's end. One in every three trees recycled in the state comes from Gwinnett, she said.

"The scent of trees, working shoulder to shoulder with people in the community, it's such a good feeling," Wiggins said.

Tim Dodson, a Meadowcreek senior, said participating in the event was his way of ensuring that his school earned a good reputation. And Brianna Sell, a Collins Hill senior, said helping to pass the trees made her feel important. Sell, who came with her dad and sister as well as friends from Collins Hill, said she isn't used to manual labor but likes the fact that she can still help.

A group of county residents who had worked with the event since its inception said they were pleased to see so many teenagers joining the effort. Jim Steele, the chief operating officer of the county school system, said the number of volunteers shows that residents are taking ownership of their community.

"It creates an awareness that citizens as individuals can do their part for the environment," he said. "It's visual evidence of a community's pride. It has to be, to be as cold as it is."

Paige Powers, who said that in her early 50s she can no longer climb to the top of the pile as easily as she did 20 years ago, questioned where county residents would have dumped their old trees if the recycling option wasn't available. As much as she enjoys the event, Powers said she also sees it as an opportunity to influence her children.

"They grow up knowing mom recycled her Christmas tree," Powers said. "It's a legacy."