Happy Little Trees Program

Bob Ross Happy Little Trees sign
  • People around the world are familiar with the work and personality of Bob Ross, the American painter, art instructor and television host who in the ’80s and ’90s shared his love for painting and the environment with millions of viewers on the PBS show, “The Joy of Painting.” Ross was known for demonstrating seemingly simple brushstrokes that brought gorgeous landscapes – full of happy little trees – to life on the canvas.

    Bob Ross and the DNR

    During the Michigan state parks centennial in 2019, the DNR Parks and Recreation Division pitched a partnership idea to Bob Ross Inc. to help raise awareness of forest protection efforts to help expand the division’s stewardship efforts. The program is now known as Happy Little Trees.

    How the program works

    Through a partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections, seeds are placed in the care of inmates in one of the department’s correctional education programs where inmates learn horticultural practices and help raise new trees for replanting. Collection of local native seeds is key to growing trees, shrubs, grasses and plant products for use in state parks within the same geographical region to provide the best opportunity to survive and to emulate local plant communities.

    The program has produced more than 100,000 native plants, shrubs and trees since its start in 2004. With support from the Bob Ross partnership, more than 2,100 trees have been planted in 20 state parks across Michigan. The U.S. Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chateau Grand Traverse also have provided significant support for the program. Visitors to state parks where trees have been planted will see bright green “Happy Little Trees Ahead” signs to note the program’s important contributions.


    The partnership between the DNR and Bob Ross Inc. involves hundreds of volunteers planting trees, thousands of 5K race participants raising funds and awareness and lots of “happy little trees” throughout Michigan.

  • Questions? For more details on Happy Little Tree plantings, general tree planting and forest health in state parks, contact Heidi Frei (DNR natural resource steward and state park forest health). For more details on the Happy Little Trees partnership, the Happy Little 5k, and sponsorship opportunities, contact Michelle O'Kelly (DNR parks and recreation fund developer).