Bob Ross made a living painting “happy little trees,” but in Michigan his legacy has been transferred from the canvas to real-life happy trees in nature.
Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have teamed up with inmates in three of the state’s correctional institutions to plant trees. Roadtrippers reports that to celebrate the 100th year of Michigan’s state park systems—and to honor Ross—the DNR renamed their “prison grow” program Happy Little Trees. The program teaches prisoners horticulture skills by growing trees from native seeds collected by volunteers. Each year, the inmates help grow around 1000 trees. The state uses those young (and happy) trees to replace damaged or diseased trees that reside in parks, campgrounds, and trails all over Michigan. In 2019, 22 out of 103 parks—about 20 percent—will be the recipient of healthy and happy trees grown by the inmates and a staff of volunteers.
To commemorate Ross’s involvement, several parks are scheduled to have commemorative signs. Orchard Beach, Port Crescent, and Yankee Springs parks will have green signs with Bob Ross’s face (afro and all) happily painting outlines of trees; the words “Happy Little Trees Ahead” appear below the outlines. DNR is always looking for more volunteers to plant trees, and those who sign up receive a special groovy T-shirt featuring Ross’s likeness.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Ross’s death, so the tree-planting program is particularly appropriate. As Ross once said: “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.” Ross probably would have been thrilled to have his name attached to a program that grows thousands of happy little trees in the wild.