Branching out: Avista helps Lands Council plant hundreds of trees

With her sleeves rolled up and wearing a vibrant yellow safety vest, Lacey McKenna leads a group of women on a four-hour expedition deep inside the West Central neighborhood of Spokane, Washington. Carrying shovels and pickaxes, the small group is planting trees.

Lacey's crew is part of a larger collective of volunteers working to increase Spokane’s urban canopy coverage during the Lands Council SpoCanopy Week. The unique event is part of the overall Expo '74 50th Anniversary celebration.

Over the five-day event in May of 2024, hundreds of volunteers planted 782 mature street trees, targeting low-income neighborhoods with the least canopy coverage and disproportionate environmental disparities. In addition to West Central, the week focused on the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood, Spokane Conservation District, and the Appleway Trail.

"We had a goal of planting 500 trees," said Justyce Brant, Lands Council Restoration Coordinator. "With the impressive turnout, we surpassed our goal."

Lacey committed to four days of the event, two of which she was the team lead for a reforestation crew, some of which she recruited herself.

"I like recruiting volunteers,” said Lacey “Whether it's people I know or total strangers, you spend four hours finding out about each other. It’s very cool."

She also rallied neighbors in the historic Emerson-Garfield neighborhood, where she has lived for 25 years. Lacey's outreach resulted in planting 38 trees in the neighborhood's Corbin Park.

"Ultimately, it comes down to my kids, my grandkids," said Lacey, discussing why she volunteers for the SpoCanopy Project. "They will see the change we're making. It is a generational thing that will change the face of Spokane forever."

The Expo event launches SpoCanopy's six-year project expansion outside Spokane City limits. Previously, the Lands Council planted approximately 200 trees during annual spring and fall plantings. Justyce anticipates the planned expansion will add approximately 2,000 trees yearly, helping to reach the 30% canopy coverage goal by 2030.

"Most Northeast neighborhoods average around eleven to thirteen percent coverage," said Jasmine Vilar, Development Director for the Lands Council. "We have a ways to go to close that gap."

Increasing urban green spaces provides significant environmental, economic and health benefits. A healthy canopy can filter pollutants, lessen the urban heat dome effect and lower energy costs. It further creates a habitat for migratory birds and enhances property value.

Each tree location was carefully considered, putting the right tree in the right place to ensure the trees do not interfere with power lines, other utility connections, or sidewalks.

Avista championed the week-long event by awarding the Lands Council a Named Communities Investment Fund (NCIF) grant. This crucial funding enabled the nonprofit to develop outreach materials for planting sites, coordinate the event and provide refreshments for the volunteers.

"We wanted to recommit to the dreams made at the '74 World's Fair," said Jasmine. "So, we reached out to Avista because they invest back into the community, especially marginalized communities."

Local food trucks arrived on site daily to keep the hard-working crews well-fed.

"I was so pleased to see the care and feeding of the volunteers," said Janet Farness. "It makes a big difference to take time for a break and enjoy some fellowship."

Janet volunteered on the last day of the Expo event and planted trees along the Spokane Valley's Appleway Trail. She organized several teams of volunteers, including one from her church. Janet's small group developed a personal connection to their trees, prompting them to name each planting: “Sitting on a Hill,” “Waving in the Breeze” and “Rock of Ages.”

"I'm going to continue evangelizing SpoCanopy," said Janet. “I appreciate their passion, effectiveness, and deep understanding of what a huge difference increasing the tree canopy makes."

The SpoCanopy project represents a collaboration between the Lands Council, the City of Spokane Urban Forestry Department and the Spokane Conservation District.

Avista's Named Communities Investment Fund (NCIF) was approved by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, as part of the company's Clean Energy Implementation Plan (CEIP) to meet compliance targets for the state's Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA, 2019). The NCIF will invest up to $5 million annually in projects, programs, and initiatives that benefit Avista's Washington electric customers residing in historically disadvantaged and vulnerable communities (i.e., "Named Communities"). Community-based projects will be selected for funding through a competitive grant application process. Application information and eligibility guidelines can be found at

To put your name on a list of residents wanting to receive a free SpoCanopy street tree, visit

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