Local Lifestyle, News

Local teen’s mission to plant 1,000 trees being nurtured by community

by Kate Shunney

Construction of the U.S. 522 Bypass has removed thousands of trees from Morgan County’s landscape, and a local young man wants to restore some of what’s been lost.

Jacob Villeneuve is now in his second year of pursuing a big goal — planting 1,000 trees to grow in place of the trees taken down for the new highway.

That project is taking place on his family’s property along Martinsburg Road, and has picked up speed this year as more and more people learn of Jacob’s mission, and the hard work he’s already done to reach his goal.

Hot weather and a surgery for Jacob has paused the heavy labor of digging holes for native seedlings, but Mom Pamela Villeneuve said helpers are showing up to pitch in to keep the tree project in good health.

A local church youth group has said they will mulch and water the young trees this summer, and people continue to donate toward a fund to buy seedlings.

Jacob is poised to far surpass his original goal, thanks to support from an astounding number of people who have been captivated by his mission.

A line of volunteer helpers put new seedlings in the ground as part of Jacob Villenueve’s project to plant 1,000 trees.
photo courtesy of Pamela Villenueve

It all started when Jacob saw trees being cut for the bypass construction.

“He got really upset when he saw the number of trees coming down,” said Pam Villeneuve.

Her son, who is autistic, was aware that was not just a loss of trunks and leaves, but of habitat for local animals. He asked if he could plant new trees on the family’s acreage outside of the bypass area.

“I’m going to plant 1,000 trees,” Jacob told his mother.

She was agreeable to the idea, thinking he might work on it for a while, then move on to something else.

That’s not what happened.

In 2023, Jacob and his family planted 200 trees.

Pam started sharing project updates on her social media to support Jacob’s vision.

They started planting again in 2024 right away.

Villeneuve said they placed an order for 100 bare root seedlings from the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District but found out they had missed the ordering deadline.

Off they went to find other trees, buying seedlings where affordable. Local grower Leonard Barron donated 17 trees to Jacob’s project. The Cacapon Institute learned of the mission and transferred 65 excess trees from a school in Martinsburg to Jacob, to make sure the seedlings got planted.

Rather than picking up the 100 seedlings they ordered from the Conservation District, the Villeneuve’s received delivery of 500 seedlings that the district had left over from their annual sale.

Jodi Sims of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District didn’t just turn over the trees to Jacob’s planting project, she brought members of Troop 42 from Charles Town, including assistant Scout Master Margorie Badger and her family, her sister and brother from Berkeley Springs.  On a hot Memorial Day, an extra 18 people appeared to plant more than 250 trees in a single day.

Floyd Kursey, Associate Eastern Panhandle Conservation District Supervisor, hands Jacob Villenueve a bushel of trees that were left over from the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District tree sale.
photo by Vanta E. Coda III

Tree Works donated a truckload of mulch to add around the seedlings.

Ray Keefer pointed out that the chipped mulch had come from trees taken by the bypass.

“It was a whole circle of life thing,” Villeneuve said.

“I’m still amazed by the people who came and helped, and it was hot and Memorial Day,” said Pam Villeneuve. “As a parent, I’ve over the moon with that kind of support.”

So far in year two of Jacob’s mission, family and helpers have planted 700 new trees.

Help has come from other directions — fields were cut by Nate Caudill from Sleepy Creek Honey and volunteers Brenda Young, Donavan, Garrett and Everett Zook from Hope Church Berkeley Springs assisted with plantings and Kylar Mackinac and Jackson Humphreys, local scouts, have pitched in.

A Go Fund Me is still up to help pay for more trees, stakes and supplies as Jacob and his family can find and plant them.

With so many young trees getting established, the focus of the second half of 2024 will be on keeping the seedlings healthy and protected, so they can grow into the future.

Jacob Villenueve puts a young tree in the ground.
photo by Vanta E. Coda III

The same focus is on Jacob, to some extent. The young man has multiple surgeries in his future to have tumors removed from his head. Those will require some recovery time, and less time out in the field.

Planning and outreach are continuing, though, during the pause. Pam Villeneuve said several people have requested they be able to purchase trees to have planted in memory of a loved one.

“We presently have two planted that were specified and plaques made.  This will need to be arranged with us and the cost will be determined by the type of tree and plaque.  This is a complete not profit, project for the sole purpose of giving back and helping the environment,” she said.

Pamela Villeneuve can be reached through Facebook or by calling 304-279-5487.

“This could never have come together without the community effort,” Villeneuve said. “It has been more of a community event.”

A mulch day is planned for July 13 when the Hope Youth Group is set to spread mulch around the new trees.

She said she is terrifically proud of her son’s vision and dedication to the cause, and how it’s inspiring others. When the two go out in public now, it’s not unusual for a stranger to stop them and inquire, “Jacob, how are your trees?”