LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Even though the leaves are turning with the arrival of fall, efforts are still underway to "green up" parts of Louisville. The Green Heart Project is planting a number of trees and researchers are studying the effect they have on our local community's health.
"We have some native junipers, we have some magnolia trees, we have a lob-lolly pine tree which is native to Kentucky," Director of Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, Chris Chandler, said. "We've got primarily evergreen conifer trees that we're planting. The research tells us that these trees are better performers at capturing and suspending air pollutants."
Hundreds of trees have taken root in south Louisville along the Watterson Expressway near the Wyandotte and Beechmont neighborhoods. The group plans to have more plantings on the way in early 2021.
The planting is not just to green up an area of the city void of trees, but also a study.
Known as the HEAL Study, researchers from University of Louisville's Environmental Institute want to quantify the impact.
"We're looking at the community and saying this is where your health started, we're going to give the community this treatment of greenery and trees, and then we're going to see what happens to people's health," Rachel Keith of UofL's Environmental Institute said.
The study will track 750 participants' health over the next five years to see what changes the new greenery will have. A previous pilot study near St. Margert Mary found noticeable improvements in air quality, so they expect even greater results over several years. They're also tracking whether any improvements in health come from improvements in air quality or certain compounds that trees release.
Keith said there's been great interest in the study as it's community intervention and doesn't require residents to take special time out of their day
Green Heart Project has been picky about what trees are planted, and where.
"It took a lot of engineering and modeling to figure out the species, the sizes, the widths, and then how close to plant them together to try and maximize our ability to filter the air pollution coming off the highway," Chandler said.
The area along the highway is a tough spot for trees to grow because of high wind and soil pollution from things like salt in wintertime snow removal. Four zones have been for planting with soil samples taken to determine which trees would be best suited for those areas.
In the coming years Green Heart Project hopes to plant thousands of trees in various neighborhoods, parks, and private homes that currently lack tree coverage.