As a kid, we used to love this curly-haired artist. He went by the name Bob Ross, and though what he did seemed really slow and boring, there was something in that zen-like comforting voice that held us in a trance. In the end, we would be sucked into his world as he painted his ‘happy little trees’ all over the canvass. The death of Bob Ross was quite a tragedy for the entire world. But he lives on with his painting, his voice, and his ‘happy little trees’ catchphrase.
Michigan state parks are nearing their centennial anniversary and so, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had a plan. Since the month of May, an intensive afforestation project was taking place all across the state parks in Michigan. The volunteers were replacing diseased and damaged trees with healthy ones. They were planting saplings that prison inmates had grown.
This project has been named Happy Little Trees program and it is running with the partnership of Bob Ross Inc. and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It was previously named the ‘prison grow’ program but Happy Little Trees sounds a lot more compelling.
The DNR’s Parks and Recreation division’s one donor coordinator and volunteer Michelle Cross mentioned that the prison inmates present at three correctional facilities in the state nursed about 1,000 trees each year. These included sugar maple, paper birch, as well as other indigenous varieties of plants. These plants were then used for restoration projects with volunteers planting them at planned areas where much foliage was destroyed by invasive species.
Coss mentioned how during the planning and discussion process, the term ‘happy little trees’ came up and then they decided to ask for permission from Bob Ross Inc. to use this term. Bob Ross Inc. was more than happy to help.
The prison grow program was launched back in 2006 and now about 30-40 prisoners engage in nurturing the saplings. These were planted later in 22 parks in the state. The state itself has about 103. A press release mentioned that sites like Fort Custer, Silver Lake, and Yankee Springs from the Lower Peninsula got trees back in May and sites like Laughing Whitefish, Muskallonge Lake, and Tahquamenon Falls from the Upper Peninsula got a few in the month of June.
After the project was renamed, it became more popular. After the April announcement, over 500 people signed up as volunteers, maybe to get a free t-shirt with Bob Ross on it.
Heidi Frei from the DNR Natural Resources mentions how firewood from outside the region can cause invasive pests from entering the local region and cause a contagious infection among local trees. This initiative of Happy Little Tree plants region-specific trees which will help the immunity system of the trees and make them better survivors in their own natural environment.
Already, Bob Ross is making his appearance in Orchard Beach State Park, Port Crescent State Park, and also the Yankee Springs Recreation Area. More signs will be placed on Sleeper State Park, Ludington State Park, and Warren Dunes State Park.
Maybe this initiative can help bring Bob’s happy little trees on the canvass back to life in our real world.
IMAGE FEATURED: PAPAN SAENKUTRUEANG