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Virginia Beach teenager who’s planted thousands of trees wins national recognition

Photo by Katherine Hafner. Evan Nied of Planting Shade in front of one of his tree-planting sites in the Ashville Park neighborhood of Virginia Beach on Wednesday, August 3, 2022.
Photo by Katherine Hafner. Evan Nied of Planting Shade in front of one of his tree-planting sites in the Ashville Park neighborhood of Virginia Beach on Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

On a recent afternoon, Evan Nied points to a line of greenery next to the clubhouse in the Ashville Park community of Pungo. Rows of baby trees tied to stakes shoot out from the ground.

“I’m really proud of these trees that we have over here because this was our first partnership with the city of Virginia Beach. And I had to work with several contractors,” he said. 

“Before there weren’t any trees, and now there’s all these different trees, and we can kind of see a larger ecosystem that’s being built up.”

Nied is passionate about planting trees, and has spent several years enacting that passion here in his native Virginia Beach. 

He’s just getting started. Nied is 18, a recent graduate of Kempsville High School. He’s also the founder of a nonprofit called Planting Shade that now has international reach.

The San Francisco-based Helen Diller Family Foundation recently awarded Nied with $36,000 through its Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for Jewish youth.

“Through a combination of individual donations and corporate sponsorships, Planting Shade has provided young people with shovels, gloves, and other necessary resources to empower them to make a difference on their local climate,” the foundation wrote on its website.

Nied said he’s always considered himself somewhat of an environmentalist. But the tree planting endeavor started after Hurricane Florence blew through Hampton Roads in 2018.  

The storm forced his family to temporarily evacuate. They didn’t suffer any harm, but Nied learned about how the hurricane caused deaths and millions of dollars in property damage.

“These sets of hurricanes kind of showed me that there was a pattern going on,” he said. “These negative natural disasters are increasingly encroaching on people’s lives, and (I thought) I should do something to make an impact.”

He said he didn’t get much formal environmental education – something he wants to change for local youth – but did a lot of his own research, including reaching out to City Council, arborists and other community members.

“I decided that the best thing that I could do to improve or mitigate the local effects of natural disasters was to plant trees,” Nied said.

That’s because they’re “super plants,” he said, sucking up pollution while helping prevent erosion, sustaining ecosystems and providing shade.

His goal at the time was to plant 1,000 trees by his senior year, and he started Planting Shade as a school club.

But Nied quickly turned it into a nonprofit to have wider reach. He and other teenage volunteers began planting at local schools and some private properties, and the roster soon expanded.

The group has planted about 12,000 trees from Hampton Roads to Israel and Costa Rica. They started a second chapter in Richmond and now have 11, including in Long Island and Monterey Bay, California.

Nied helped plant at the Ashville Park site in November, oaks and pines near the clubhouse that serve as a buffer for a new retention pond.

Ryan Potes, vice president of the Ashville Park Owners Association, said the developer had been working with Virginia Beach to implement stormwater management requirements. 

The city then connected them to Planting Shade, Potes said. He said it was refreshing to see a young person be so involved.

“Someone that just cares about the state of their hometown and nature … it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s really cool knowing that there are kids and people that want to perpetuate the future and re-establish things rather than just take things away.”

Nied is heading to the University of Virginia this fall as a Jefferson and Echols scholar. 

He wants to stay involved with Planting Shade, including putting a renewed emphasis on boosting local environmental education. 

But he has already started passing the torch.

“I want to continue to have it be led by students and led by young people of a high school age,” he said. “Because I think it’s really important to show those young people that they can make a difference in their communities.”

Does he have a favorite tree?

“I would say dogwoods, just because they’re the state tree for Virginia. So, gotta represent.”

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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