Forest habitat brings wildlife and peace to Detroit neighborhoods

Community News

Detroit, Michigan, Environment, sustainability, Foundation
Students from the University of Dearborn volunteered at the tree planting event.
  • Detroit resident Calvin Pearson is supporting a green space expansion project that is adding more trees to areas in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood.
  • Marathon Petroleum’s Detroit refinery has been planting trees for the last couple of years to re-naturalize parts of Oakwood Heights and the Boynton neighborhood.
  • Volunteers, including students from the University of Michigan and employees from the refinery, recently planted more than 200 native trees in the two areas.

Calvin Pearson has lived in the Detroit neighborhood of Oakwood Heights for 22 years. He longed for the peace he found in nature growing up in the country in Arkansas. Pearson said he’s slowly seeing that peace return as nature is coming back to Detroit.

“I love to watch how certain animals feed and interact,” said Pearson. “I’ve seen fox, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, turkey, groundhogs and raccoons. I’ve watched the eagles come out to eat, owls feeding at night, and bats fly out of the bat boxes. You can sit and see something different all the time.”

Pearson lives near the Oakwood Forest, where Marathon Petroleum’s Detroit refinery has been planting trees to re-naturalize the former residential area. In 2021, volunteers partnered with the Wildlife Habitat Council and planted 150 trees to restore and expand the green spaces.

"This area is transitioning back to nature... It’s fascinating to watch."

This October, Pearson joined another group of volunteers from the Detroit refinery, the University of Michigan Dearborn and local advocates to plant another 55 native trees near the Oakwood Forest and 150 trees in the nearby Boynton neighborhood.

Dr. Paul Draus, a sociologist at the University of Michigan Dearborn, has been involved in the Oakwood Heights area since 2010. He brought a class of students to help plant the trees and learn about re-naturalizing landscapes in industrialized areas.

“It is a long process, but I feel honored to be able to help push it along,” said Dr. Draus. “Most of the students had never been to this area of Detroit before, and they were surprised to learn how much history was there and how much resilience was demonstrated. Participating in the Oakwood Heights tree planting gave them a perspective on their own responsibilities as ‘climate citizens.’” 

The refinery may add fruit trees to the area, something Pearson would be happy to support.

Volunteers add trees to continue re-naturalizing the area.

“Calvin has been very involved in the community and remains very invested in what we are trying to do,” said Kevin Lepak, Health, Environment and Safety Professional at the Detroit refinery and organizer of the tree planting initiative. “He shared with us that he was interested in having fruit trees nearby, so we planted a few persimmon and paw paw trees next to his house.”

Pearson says Marathon has been a good neighbor, and he advocates for others to get involved and speak up.

“What Marathon is doing is adding more peace to the peace,” said Pearson. “This area is transitioning back to nature. I wish people who grew up in the city could see what’s in the woods. It’s fascinating to watch.”

Calvin Pearson stands by a newly planted tree in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood.
A newly planted tree next to an older tree in the area.