By Vina Medenilla
On Mount 387, Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, a patch of land that was once unproductive was transformed into a tree park filled with now over 2,000 native and fruit-bearing tree seedlings in just less than a month.
Behind this so-called “BTS Tree Park” are three Filipino ARMYs (the name BTS fans call themselves), namely Elyssa Marie Uy, Krystine Nocum, and Alyanna Andrea Sebastian.
BTS, which stands for “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” is a South Korean boy band with seven members that are globally recognized for their inspiring story, personalities, and music.
They are the first K-pop group to receive a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category for their song “Dynamite.”
RM, the team leader and main rapper, has also been an inspiration to many ARMYs when it comes to his passion for the environment. In a reality show called “In the Soop,” RM was shown tending to his six-year-old red plum blossom tree bonsai.
The establishment of the BTS Tree Park
It all started with a random tweet.
It said something like this: “If BTS asked their fans to plant trees, then our problems with global warming will be solved.”
This piqued Uy’s interest to invite her two co-ARMY friends to hike and plant 10 native trees in a mountain where she usually treks.
Aside from the fact that Uy is a regular visitor to that mountain, she said, “I chose Mount 387 since they already have an existing tree planting activity that just started during the pandemic to help the locals have an income, provide food on their table, while also helping nature in the process.”
Fandom unified by love for BTS and nature
Uy requested Roy P. Manuzon, the president of Kalinga sa Kalikasan ng Puncan (KAPUNCAN), for an area where their group can plant trees as a dedication for the seven BTS members.
KAPUNCAN is a non-governmental organization that has been working with the DENR for the reforestation, forest protection, and environmental law enforcement in Mount 387 since 2005.
When Manuzon, the person in charge of Mt. 387, agreed to allocate a place for the BTS Tree Park, Uy then shared the tree planting initiative on Facebook.
“I asked if other ARMYs would be interested in adopting a seedling and then, we’ll be the ones who will do the planting. I never expected my Facebook post to blow up with a thousand shares in a matter of days!”
What was originally 10 tree seedlings that represent the seven BTS members plus the trio, grew to a hundred overnight, and eventually, to more than a thousand in just a few weeks.Roughly 20 hectares out of the 387-hectare protected land in Mount 387 is allotted for the BTS Tree Park.
Greening the area with various tree species
Less than 30 banaba seedlings were part of the initial plan, but when donations started escalating, the group considered the importance of diversity in reforestation and ended up incorporating native and fruit-bearing tree seedlings in the first batch of the planting drive last June 26, 2021.
The seedlings include native species like banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa), molave (Vitex parviflora), and narra (Pterocarpus indicus), as well as fruit-bearing trees such as kasoy, guyabano, langka, and atis.
The average distance of each seedling is around three meters. Manuzon is responsible for the technical side of planting them, said Uy.
As of July 10, 2021, they already planted 2,190 native and fruit-bearing seedlings at the park. On July 18, 2021, the team will be planting additional 156 seedlings for the second batch.
Supporting the community’s livelihood
More than an initiative that is driven by love for BTS and the environment, the tree park also provides jobs to over 40 locals who are members of KAPUNCAN and Kabataan ng Mount 387. During the first tree planting activity, youth volunteers were able to earn extra money from the donations, which helped in buying food as well as internet allowance for their online classes.
“We give [volunteers] labor fees since they are the ones who aid us in transporting, digging, and planting the seedlings in the mountain,” said the initiators of the BTS Tree Planting project. Every volunteer plants about 40 to 50 seedlings a day. There are individuals who are also assigned to the maintenance and monthly grass cutting.
Donation and mountain visits
Whether a BTS fan or not, one can adopt a seedling for only P50. For those who want a more personal touch, they can pay P200 for a seedling with a label or name that is printed on a paper and secured in a bottle. Donations for the maintenance of the park or the sustenance of the seedlings are very much welcome.
Mount 387 is a tourist destination where guests can hike for P70/pax, or can stay overnight for P90/pax. There’s a guide fee of P400 for a day hike (one guide for every seven hikers or below) and P600 for the overnight stay with a minimum of two guides, plus the guides’ meal.
For non-residents of Nueva Ecija who are planning to visit the park, there will be additional requirements, in compliance with the health and safety protocols set by the IATF due to COVID-19.
The trio said that the project wouldn’t have been possible without the collective support and inspiration from various community groups, ARMYs from different parts of the world, and of course, BTS.
They are planning to further enhance the park so they can attract more tourists and provide jobs to locals.
Not only does this project help the environment, but it can also boost tourism in Nueva Ecija, especially when it is safer to travel.
For more information, message BTS Tree Park on Facebook or contact Roy Manuzon at (0917 571 2152).
Photos courtesy of Elyssa Marie Uy.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s September to October 2021 issue.