GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — Pulling off a plastic sheet from rows of pots, Dustin Kenny revealed what will hopefully be taking root in a more permanent home in the future.

Green-leaved tree sprouts were growing near the office building in Hall County Park. Just a few yards away, more trees were maturing in a nursery that is fenced off to keep rabbits out and prevent turkeys from digging for insects in the wood chips.

The small trees will hopefully have a long life after being planted in the park to replace ash trees that will eventually have to be taken down because of the invasive emerald ash borer.

The beetle destroys ash trees. Not only can it wipe out portions of that variety, but it can also cause significant damage dollar-wise to cities and counties that deal with the problem of removing and disposing of infected trees. While it hasn't been spotted yet in Hall County, the ash borer is present in Nebraska.

It's important to be proactive regarding the pest.

"When the ash borer hits, it will slowly decimate the ash tree population," said Loren "Doone" Humphrey, Hall County facilities director.

The county hasn't begun a mass removal of ash trees from the park, but that could come in the future if the ash borer is detected.

"We will remove them when the ash borer gets here. There is no sense taking healthy trees out until the ash borer is in the area. We monitor it the best we can," Humphrey told The Grand Island Independent .

The county has had a nursery for a number of years to grow trees, bushes and flowers. Cultivating trees now that aren't ash trees is a way the county is preparing. When the sprouts are old enough, they will be planted in the park in areas where ash trees have been removed.

Kenny, the county parks superintendent, said one item on his to-do list in the coming days is to count the number of ash trees in Hall County Park. In the meantime, among his other duties, he is caring for the young trees.

He learned about growing trees last year from Darwin Wicht, an arborist from Shelton.

So far, Kenny's green thumb has been on the mark.

"I've had good luck," he said.

The majority of the sprouts that are growing came from a cost-effective move of collecting seeds found in the park.

"I picked most of them in late August and September. I try to beat the squirrels to the acorns," Kenny said with a laugh.

The potted trees, some of which are just starting to push through the soil, will eventually be moved to the nursery. There they will be put in grow bags and buried in wood chips. The bags keep the roots contained so the trees can be easily removed and replanted in the park.

Kenny, who has been the park superintendent for about three years, said the length of time it will take before the trees are replanted can depend on the species. He thinks it will take at least three to four years or until they are 6 to 7 feet tall until that can be done for most of the varieties.

About 50 trees are growing in the nursery now, including one little spruce that was donated by a woman who saw it poking through some rocks on her property.

Some of the other varieties include Kentucky coffeetree, Ohio buckeye and white oak. Those will eventually join the cottonwood, elm and black walnut trees already in the park.

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Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com