Crews plant 1,600 trees at Wake County interchange to benefit environment

Looking up at trees

Four acres of grassy open space at the N.C. 54/N.C. 540 interchange in Morrisville are now home to more than 1,600 baby trees, which over their 40-year lifetime, will capture nearly 28 million gallons of rainfall,  prevent around 3.7 million gallons of runoff and store more than 5.4 million pounds of CO2.

This reforestation project, spearheaded by Wake County in collaboration with the N.C. Department of Transportation, N.C. Turnpike Authority and Davey Resource Group, Inc., is part of an effort to protect and prioritize the county’s tree canopy.

In summer 2023, Wake County completed a 16-month Land Cover Analysis with Supporting Tree Canopy Assessment, which not only detailed the state of the current tree canopy, but identified areas that could benefit from new trees. So far, two planting initiatives have been launched in response to these findings. The second planting initiative is scheduled to take place in March.

“It’s exciting that we are taking what we learned from the Tree Canopy Assessment and putting it into action,” said Shinica Thomas, chair, Wake County Board of Commissioners. “Trees help clean the air, filter the water and mitigate the impacts of climate change. As Wake County continues to grow and develop, it’s important that we do what we can now to reverse our declining tree canopy.”

Assessing Wake’s tree canopy
The Tree Canopy Assessment revealed that from 2010 to 2020, Wake County lost 11,122 acres of tree canopy – a total land area more than double the size of William B. Umstead State Park.

It's not a surprise given the county’s rapid growth and development. From 2010 to 2020, the countywide population climbed from 900,993 to 1,129,410 – an increase of 25.4%, which is more than 2.5 times the growth rate of North Carolina and nearly 3.5 times the national growth rate.

The study highlighted the importance of Wake County’s tree canopy, which as of 2020, had a combined estimated value greater than $3.2 billion. Over their lifespan, Wake County’s trees are estimated to have collectively removed and stored over 10.2 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. The value of this stored carbon equates to more than $1.74 billion.

The study also found 404,879 individual potential planting areas totaling over 80,000 acres. Using factors like social equity, stormwater runoff and urban heat island impact – measures that can indicate community vulnerability – over 10,000 acres were identified as “very high planting priority.”

Reforestation opportunities
That’s where the N.C. 54/N.C. 540 reforestation pilot program comes in. This proof-of-concept project is hoped to be the first of many as the County continues to partner with NCDOT and the N.C. Turnpike Authority to focus on reforestation along N.C. 540 and other major roadways, utilizing this same low-cost, low-maintenance solution to growing the tree canopy.

The N.C. 54/N.C. 540 area was ideal for the pilot program because of the amount of contiguous land available, its visibility from both roadways and its central location in the county. The land is also close to areas with lots of hard surfaces like pavement and dense development.

Crews planted a mix of coniferous and deciduous native trees, including oaks, pines and cypress. The 18- to 24-inch seedlings are marked by bright pink flags.

Information on the second planting project will be shared in early March.

Learn more about Wake County’s tree canopy and the efforts to protect it at

Press Release