County man plans on lining the Ohio Riverbank with oak trees

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When Virgil McKay looks upriver along the Ohio River from Vevay to the Markland Dam, he sees the beauty of the riverbank and the water – but he also sees a vision that he hopes will soon become a reality.

Beginning in the spring of next year, Virgil McKay hopes to begin the process of lining the Switzerland County riverbank with oak trees. He is estimating that it will take 2,200 trees to go from Vevay to the dam, bus is excited about the beauty of the oak-lined river for both residents and boaters.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to is really excited about this,” Virgil McKay said. “We anticipate planting a tree every 20 feet, so we think it’s going to be a beautiful scene for everyone once the trees mature.”

The project is strictly to provide scenery for the county, so it won’t be a money making venture for Virgil McKay or the landowners that the trees are planted on. The trees will be both Red Oak and White Oak, with the Red Oaks providing wonderful foliage in the fall of the year.

This project got started last year, when Virgil McKay – who’s been working with oak trees for about 30 years – got a call from the “Living Land and Water” organization in Illinois.

The group needed some acorns for a project that they were working on, and when Virgil McKay called them back to see how many acorns they needed, the response was “all that you’ve got.”

Virgil McKay agreed to send the group 1,000 acorns, and once they arrived in Illinois, the group was amazed at the quality of the acorns coming from this county.

“You float acorns, and if they are a live oak, they will sink to the bottom,” Virgil McKay said. “I floated everyone of the acorns that I sent them, so I knew that they were good ones. After that, all you have to do is maintain a proper temperature so they don’t think it’s time to grow yet.”

Virgil McKay said that acorns will remain dormant at a temperature of approximately 50 degrees. Any higher than that – and it’s time to get busy.

“The end of the acorn that is the smallest is where the root will start coming out,” Virgil McKay said. “Once the root starts, you better be getting them in the ground.”

“Living Land and Water” called Virgil McKay to confirm receipt of the acorns, and were so appreciative of the quality, that they offered some of the trees back to him for planting.

At first he asked for about 200 of the trees back, but then asked for more so that he could work on his vision of lining the riverbank with the oaks.

The group readily offered to provide all that he needed to accomplish the project.

“They will probably be planted on a treeline,” Virgil McKay said. “The trees won’t get the south sun, but they’ll get the east and west. That will be a benefit of them growing as the sun comes up.”

Once planted, the trees will be more visible from the river than State Road 156; but they promise to provide a spectacular display of color through the fall.

The planting process is expected to begin in April and may of next year, with spring being a great time to plant new trees – but getting 2,200 trees in the ground in a timely fashion will present its own challenge.

“The problem is logistics,” Virgil McKay said. “Getting the trees spread apart so that they can be planted. If we can get about 8-10 people planting trees, it should go pretty fast. The ag students at the school will be helping out with the planting; and others who want to volunteer can get ahold of me and we’ll arrange when to meet.”

Virgil McKay said that he has been working with the Purdue Extension Service on the project, and also hopes to approach the Community Foundation of Switzerland County for some assistance with the project.

Virgil McKay also needs the approval of the landowners to plant the trees on their property. He said that any property owner who would have a tree planted on their land and who doesn’t want one should contact him at 427-9990. Anyone with questions about the program is also urged to call him at that number.

“They’re going to be lifting these seedlings in March of 2009, and we will get them the last part of April,” Virgil McKay said. “That’s an excellent time to plant a tree.”