Inspired by Bob Ross, Michigan is planting thousands of 'happy little trees'

September 9, 2019, 8:26 a.m.
Volunteers plant happy little trees in Michigan.
Photo: Michelle Coss/Michigan Department of Natural Resources

It seems like nearly every generation has discovered Bob Ross, the soft-spoken, large-haired star of the public television show, "The Joy of Painting." From the early '80s through early '90s, Ross shared his love for nature as he taught viewers how to paint "happy little trees."

Now, in Michigan, these happy little trees have come to life.

Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have partnered to rename the state's "prison grow" program as "Happy Little Trees." The happy partnership is one way the state parks system is celebrating its 100th birthday.

Each year, inmates in the state's Department of Corrections career and technical education program study horticulture practices while raising trees using native seeds. When the trees reach about 6 feet tall, they are taken by volunteers and planted throughout 21 of Michigan's state parks. About 1,000 trees are planted each year.

Michelle Coss, fund development coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Recreation Division, came up with the idea to rename the program.

"I kind of envisioned trees leaving jail and running to a campground and being 'happy little trees' so we reached out to Bob Ross Inc. and they loved it and off we went," Coss tells MNN.

The new trees are planted in parks to replace those that have been harmed by disease or by visitors.

"It is about replacing trees that have invasive species or that have been damaged from people running over them or breaking off limbs," Coss says.

Brian Dunn, the park supervisor at Port Crescent State Park, holds a Happy Little Trees sign. Brian Dunn, the park supervisor at Port Crescent State Park, holds a Happy Little Trees sign. (Photo: Michelle Coss/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Three parks — Orchard Beach, Port Crescent and Yankee Springs — will have signs featuring Ross's face and volunteers who help plant all receive commemorative T-shirts, also starring Ross and his signature hairdo. Because the program (and the shirt) have been so popular, the DNR has no more tree-planting volunteer spots this season.

To appease all the fans who want to support the program and who really love Bob Ross, Michigan DNR is selling T-shirts featuring the artist that will benefit the tree-planting program.

The group is also planning a virtual 5K in April where you run a 5K on the honor system wherever you are. It will be called "Run for the Trees," Coss says, and it's perfect timing because the event coincides with Arbor Day and Earth Day. More information will be available on the DNR's Happy Trees site.