Volunteers gathering for the fall, 2016 Save the Rain tree planting event. Photos Courtesy Save the Rain

Save the Rain is Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s comprehensive program to improve the environment and clean Onondaga Lake by reducing the stormwater runoff that enters the sewer system. There is a combined sewer system in Syracuse, and during heavy rainfalls the system overflows into the tributaries of Onondaga Lake. Save the Rain utilizes innovative green and gray infrastructure to capture stormwater, preventing combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and improving water quality. The Save the Rain Tree Planting Program has planted over 6,300 trees that, among other ecological services, can soak up stormwater runoff.

syracuse tree planting

Save the Trees engaged SUNY-ESF students and Onondaga Earth Corps crew leaders to plant trees in Syracuse in November, 2016. Photo from Save the Rain, an initiative of Onondaga County under the Department of Water Environment Protection.

Every fall, Save the Rain organizes a large-scale volunteer planting event in the city of Syracuse. This past fall, we held our event in the Strathmore neighborhood on November 5th, 2016. We had outstanding participation from 143 community volunteers who, along with urban forestry professionals, helped to plant 96 trees in two hours in the interior of Upper Onondaga Park and along neighboring streets. For the park interior, we selected native species that had been historically planted in Upper Onondaga Park. Along the northern border of the park, a line of 17 trees was replanted alternating between types of oak (Quercus coccinea, Q. imbricaria, Q. macrocarpa) and Freeman maple (Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’) in order to reduce potential for spreading oak wilt. If one were to look closely at the design of the row, they might notice that the species form two symmetrical patterns—a secret display of “symme-tree.”


In December 2015, Save the Rain team members from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and the Onondaga Earth Corps (OEC) began conducting door-to-door outreach to seek approvals from Strathmore neighborhood homeowners interested in having free street trees planted in front of their property. When selecting tree species, each tree planting location was assessed individually for site conditions (soil quality, drainage, strip width/site size, overhead wires), and homeowner requests of location and species were taken also into consideration. Our urban forestry team selected trees from the City-approved species list of more than 50 taxa, both native and non-native, subject to location conditions and nursery availability.


Save the Rain tree planters put in temporary staking for the newly planted trees.

We had an amazing turnout of volunteers and numerous community groups, organizations, college students, church groups, and workplace volunteer groups that participated. Planting groups were led by crew leader teams consisting of CommuniTree Stewards, urban forestry students, and CCE and OEC staff members who were on hand to assist and educate volunteers on proper tree planting techniques.

In organizing the event, we worked with the Onondaga Park Association, Wegmans, Tops, and other local businesses to provide food and water to our volunteers on planting day. It was the combined efforts of everyone involved that made this event not only possible, but a blossoming success, and we thank everyone who participated for their support.

Please visit the Save the Rain tree planting program for more details.