Ever planned something just for bonding time with your friends, and then before you know it, it’s suddenly in national news? Such is the story of Elyssa Uy, Krystine Nocum, and Andie Sebastian: the trio behind the now-sensational BTS Tree Park in Nueva Ecija. What started out as a random “let’s go hike and plant trees” usapan among friends eventually became one of the biggest crowdsourced Pinoy ARMY-led projects to date.
Anyway, here are the facts for those who haven’t heard of it yet. On 19 Jun 2021, amid all the BTS Meal buzz, these ARMYs talked about doing a long-term reforestation project. This came after seeing an old tweet, where the user jokingly said, “If BTS sincerely asked their fans to plant trees, they could probably end global warming.”
Elyssa then posted on Facebook about their goal to plant 10 banaba trees at a forest near their hometown. There, she invited fellow fans to donate and adopt a tree named after them (or their fave BTS member). Two days later, more and more Pinoy ARMYs caught wind of her post — leading to more donations that later totalled to over a thousand seedlings!
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What you need to know about the BTS Tree Park
You’ll find this at Mount 387, an underrated attraction in Barangay Puncan, Carranglan. It’s named after the 387.9 hectares it occupies in the Caraballo mountain range. Aside from the BTS Tree Park, there are several other “mini-parks” here, most of which were also established by Novo Ecijano groups and organisations.
Every visitor is given the option to plant a seedling during their hike, as part of a local initiative to keep the nature reserve alive. “Kung baga, ‘yung mga hiker dito, rescuer din sila ng bundok,” said Roy Manuzon, president of the town’s Kalinga sa Kalikasan program.
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On 26 Jun 2021, the trio — together with a few other friends — hiked to the summit of Mount 387. With the help of on-site volunteers, they successfully planted 1,500 banaba seeds! More than just reforestation efforts, this BTS Tree Park initiative also provided jobs for 40 locals who live near the nature reserve. (At this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of our countrymen have lost their livelihood due to the pandemic.)
Why banaba, you ask? Well, that’s because this native tree species actually produces vibrant purple flowers. And we all know the significance of this colour in the BTS fandom!
And get this — even we decided to have a tree in our name! Although truth be told, we maybe partially regret not wittily naming it Tree-pZilla instead…
What was it like organising this project?
After all, it’s not something that happens every day (or every year, even). But hey, such is the full-power support of Filipino ARMYs, don’t you agree? Anyway, we were able to catch up with Elyssa, who works as a physical therapist and frequently vlogs about her nature adventures. Here’s a recap of our conversation on her whole experience so far.
TripZilla: What was supposed to be a small tree-planting project has reached nationwide attention. What does that feel like?
“It felt so surreal at first because I never imagined that it would blow up like this. A lot of ARMYs joined our cause not only for BTS, but also because they genuinely care about the environment. They really reached out to me to learn more about the project’s goals and objectives.
In the middle of the [planning] week, I started to feel overwhelmed and anxious to the point that I was questioning why I posted on Facebook in the first place. I didn’t want to mess anything up and disappoint everyone who helped.
I didn’t know how to delegate tasks to my co-organisers [Krystine and Andie], since I was the one who posted and I just asked them to join me. I felt that it was all my responsibility. It was a good thing that they thought of making a page so that the inquiries can be managed by the three of us.”
TZ: How long (or how often) have you been hiking at Mount 387? Why did you choose this of all places in Nueva Ecija?
“I just started going there two years ago. I’ve lost count of how frequent I visit the place, since my mountain-running group loves to make it our training ground. I chose Mount 387 because they already have an existing tree-planting project for visiting hikers. It may seem like you’re just adopting a tree, but you’re also helping provide a livelihood for the people in that community.”
TZ: Could you share with us the process of organising this first BTS Tree Park project?
“Honestly? I wanted to bury myself when my original Facebook post went viral and I didn’t know what I should do next. (*Laughs.*) Kidding aside, when my post started to get a lot of shares and many people started sending donations, I asked Sir Roy [Manuzon] if it is possible to allot a space for us so that we could dedicate it to BTS.
He said yes and that he would check for a good location. The rest is history. Also, it was funny because he initially had no idea who BTS was! But now, I feel like he’s well on his way to becoming an ARMY himself.”
TZ: Could you share with us how the first event turned out?
“We were five in the group, along with 20 youth volunteers from Barangay Puncan who hiked with us to the summit. Through the donations, we were able to provide work for these volunteers so that they could have load and allowance for their online classes. While we weren’t able to finish all 1,500 seedlings in one go, they went back the following day to complete the task.
We actually did not accept any other volunteers to limit our exposure to other people. I’m already fully vaccinated myself, but still — it didn’t feel right to be careless [in terms of health protocols].”
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What’s next for the BTS Tree Park initiative?
Setting up the first BTS Tree Park in Nueva Ecija might have been a success, but for Elyssa and her friends, the job is far from finished. “Our most important objective is to ensure the survival of the seedlings so that we can watch it bloom in the next five to seven years,” she shared. After all, there are other factors to consider like the unpredictable weather, water conservation during the dry season, and controlling pests and weeds in the area.
The trio is also planning to do beautification for this park so that more Pinoy ARMYs would want to visit — especially once it’s safe to travel again! Of course, another plus would be helping boost local tourism for Carranglan as well as the neighbouring towns and cities. Speaking of which, they‘ve already scheduled the next batch of tree planting this 18 Jul 2021.
But for now, they’re more than happy to relish this sweet moment of unexpected accomplishment. “We’re definitely proud of this BTS Tree Park initiative, since not only does it contribute to preserving our environment, but also brings together ARMYs from many different places,” said Andie. “But if this inspires even non-ARMYs to do the same, then all the better!”
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On looking forward to brighter days
Surely, of all the pandemic passion projects we’ve seen or heard of so far, this BTS Tree Park is among the most impressive. While the next location is yet to be confirmed, Elyssa admits that they’re strongly considering Mount Williams in the nearby San Jose City.
“That place [in my own hometown] has been my safe haven during the pandemic. It’s sad that there aren’t many trees there yet, mostly just grass fields, so it would be a good option for the next batch,” she said.
Another one of her “dream locations,” especially if it were beyond her home province, would be Baguio. Having spent countless childhood vacations, as well as her university days, in the City of Pines, seeing a lot of its trees being cut down breaks her heart.
Meanwhile, Krystine — who works as an assistant brand manager for a luxury retail company — wants to extend the project to metropolitan areas. “I’d love for us to do a greenhouse project in places that don’t have that many green spaces,” she shared. “But for now, we’re focusing on this existing park and keeping it sustainable in the years to come.”
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Yup, talk about taking your fangirling to the next level! If anything, this really goes to show that many K-pop fandoms are truly something else. Beyond just supporting their fave artists’ music and merchandise, they also carry their idols’ advocacies.
Wish to take part in the BTS Tree Park project, too? Feel free to follow their Facebook page for updates.