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Tre Luvr: In Erie, Pennsylvania, a love of trees and a lifetime of efforts educate a community and generations of future environmentalists. (Earthkeepers).

Johnny Appleseed may be long gone, but Erie, Pennsylvania, resident Ken Fromknecht is keeping his legacy alive--one tiny seedling at a time. Each fall Fromknecht gathers thousands of seeds and nuts that he plants in tiny paper cups and nurtures through the winter. Come spring, he gives the seedlings to schoolchildren to plant on Earth Day. The sugar maples, elms, and oaks he has handed out over the last three decades now grow in lawns, fields and parks throughout northwestern Pennsylvania.

"I'm trying to plant the seeds in children's minds that this is something you can do to help the earth," the lanky and earnest Fromknecht says. "It doesn't take a lot of knowledge or work."

Fromknecht hopes those seedlings will someday grow as big and sturdy as the record-sized trees he frequently seeks out. He spends much of his time cruising the back roads looking for big trees in his red Chevrolet truck with a license plate that reads TRE LUVR. He's found 15 state record trees and published a directory of all the big trees in Erie County.

But Fromknecht doesn't have to drive to a forest to be among trees. He has transformed his suburban backyard into a living tree museum. There, state trees from all the states hut Florida and Hawaii grow along with scores of other mature trees and young saplings. "One thing I haven't figured out is how to grow a palm tree in Erie, Pennsylvania," he says with a laugh.

Fromknecht's passion for trees stretches back to his early childhood. He recalls listening spellbound when his late father told him about the annual ritual of collecting sweet American chestnuts untll the year he returned to find chestnut blight had devastated the once bountiful trees.

"I was only 6 or 7 years old when I heard that story, so it was really shocking to me," Fromknecht says. "I guess it kept me from taking trees for granted."

Indeed, as years passed Fromknechit's concern for trees only intensified. He planted trees all through his youth and spent many days wandering through the woods collecting nuts and identifying trees. He started his sapling-handout efforts while teaching elementary school in the mid-1970s. Many of those trees that began as tiny seedlings are still growing strong nearly 30 years later.

Fromknecht's love of trees has evolved into environmental activism in recent years. He's been at the forefront of the effort to establish a law in Pennsylvania that would discourage littering by offering a nickel refund for returned cans and bottles. And in his hometown he has successfully fought to severely limit open trash and leaf burning that clouded neighborhoods with smoke. Fromknecht is also a devout advocate for recycling -- his family of three produces only one hag of trash every four months.

But it is trees that still occupy most of his time and energy. Recently, he urged developers to leave mature trees standing when they build homes and shopping centers. Fromknecht worries that suburban sprawl near his home and around the country threatens many of our remaining wood lots and forests.

"If we keep cutting trees down then where are our children going to experience nature?" says Fromknecht. "I try to approach it with a positive outlook. I am saying this is one thing we have to do to save the earth. I hate to see trees get cut down, but it happens. You can't bring them back. You just say a little prayer for the tree that's gone and plant 10 more in its place."

Scott Westcott writes from his home in Erie Pennsylvania.
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Author:Westcott, Scott
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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