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 Volunteer docents from the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society lead students around Apple Island, teaching them the history of the island before planting an apple tree in late May.

Volunteer docents from the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society lead students around Apple Island, teaching them the history of the island before planting an apple tree in late May.

Photo provided by Pamela Zajac


Apple Island lives up to its name with newly planted apple trees

By: Maddie Forshee | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 12, 2018

 A group of Gretchko Elementary School students pose outside of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society in Orchard Lake before heading to Apple Island on a field trip. Each of the five second-grade classes planted an apple tree on Apple Island in late May.

A group of Gretchko Elementary School students pose outside of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society in Orchard Lake before heading to Apple Island on a field trip. Each of the five second-grade classes planted an apple tree on Apple Island in late May.

Photo provided by Pamela Zajac

ORCHARD LAKE — Apple Island once again lives up to its namesake, thanks to fundraising efforts by the West Bloomfield School District. 

Mary Ann Ayar, a second-grade teacher at Gretchko Elementary School, worked with other second-grade teachers to raise money to purchase five apple trees to plant on Apple Island, which is owned by the school district. 

Ayar worked with another teacher, Liz Costello, to make notecards and projects that students sold at Gretchko events. Ayar also worked with Jim Trefoli, a docent with the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society.

“We worked collaboratively to fundraise what we needed,” said Ayar. “We used the proceeds ... to purchase the trees. We’re a wonderful team that works together.”

Each year, every second-grade class at Gretchko makes the trip to the island. This year, the five classes visited the island May 29-31. 

“Every year, the kids would ask about apple trees on Apple Island,” said Ayar. 

During the trip, students learned about the history of the island. Each class was responsible for planting one tree during their class field trip. 

The apple trees planted are snow apple trees bought from English Gardens in West Bloomfield. Each student on the trip got the chance to shovel some dirt and water the trees.

“Our hope is that we look forward to planting more trees in the future,” said Ayar. “Maybe not every year, but as much as we can.”

The last apple tree on 35-acre Apple Island died in 1981. The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society still conducts tours of the island for local residents to explore history.

“Apple trees have been on the island for years, hence its name,” said Gina Gregory, president of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society. “When (people) lived on the island, they maintained the apple orchards. When (they left) in 1939, the orchards weren’t maintained by anyone.”

According to Gregory, early records show that Apple Island was purchased in 1856 by a Detroit resident who turned it into a vacation destination for his family. The island was private property from 1856 to 1915. During this time, the family built structures and planted orchards on the island.

After 1915, the island was owned by a family member until 1970, when it was donated to the West Bloomfield School District. 

“It has been a woodland sanctuary since then,” said Gregory. “We couldn’t consider planting apple trees until we had a spot that was sunny enough. Now we have one, so we ... utilized that. We hope the trees thrive. That would be nice.”

Ayar said she was happy that the project was able to happen. 

“It was a passion of ours to make that happen, to re-establish that Apple Island has apple trees,” she said. “We taught the kids small people can do big things; they can make a change in the world, even if it’s just by planting an apple tree.”