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Living as we do in America’s largest national forest, it might seem we don’t need a reason to celebrate trees: They are as natural a part of our lives as breathing.
But in Nebraska, where Arbor Day started, they weren’t. J. Sterling Morton moved to Nebraska from Detroit and, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, he and his fellow pioneers missed trees. They loved them for the beauty they lent a place — look around us! — but also needed trees “as windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.”
Nationally, Arbor Day is the last Friday of April, but in Alaska, it’s today. The day varies from state to state depending in part on weather.
The first Arbor Day was April 10, 1872, in Morton’s Nebraska. It was a wildly successful celebration, during which prizes were awarded to counties and individuals “for planting properly the largest number of trees on that day.” It was estimated that more than a million trees were planted in Nebraska that first Arbor Day.
Within 10 years, the day was celebrated in schools nationally.
In Ketchikan, forested as we are, we still need the help of trees. This year, we celebrate a new public library. That’s where the Society of American Foresters will plant a tree at 10 this morning.
Later in the day, at Fawn Mountain Elementary School, Laura Charlton will — as has become her tradition — join Kathy Paulson’s third-grade class to talk about, celebrate and plant trees.
The Society of American Foresters in Anchorage (where Ketchikan’s Charlton sits on the Alaska Community Forest Council) has provided the 8- to 18-inch saplings to be planted — Colorado blue spruce and paper birch. They’ll be planted “in places they can grow to their usually large size, and enhance the beauty of the school with some evergreens and beautiful barked hardwoods,” according to Charlton.
Charlton says she loves third-graders, who already are very knowledgeable about trees and yet like sponges for new information. They’ll get bracelets and stickers, learn still more about trees and our forest, and over the years will keep their eyes on the little saplings they’ve planted.
“They’ll grow up and be nice trees,” Charlton says.
Charlton was instrumental in Ketchikan’s seeking and obtaining the designation of Tree City USA, a national program of management for trees in cities and towns. Southeast Alaska has other Tree Cities in Sitka and Juneau, as well as Anchorage, Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and Wasilla. Eielson takes honors as being the longest-standing tree city, at 20 years. Ketchikan, at five years, is the state’s newest Tree City, not far behind Anchorage, with seven years of Tree City-status.
To learn about Tree Cities, the forest, Arbor Day and the benefits of trees, visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s website at arborday.org. Better yet, talk to a forester or someone who works in the woods. We have so many resources about the forest, living, breathing guardians of our bounty.
Today, help plant a tree if you can. If you can’t, look around you: How many shades of green do you see? Glory in the beauty of the rainforest in which we are privileged to live.
As trees did for those longing Nebraska pioneers so many years ago, the trees we plant serve as windbreaks and even, occasionally, give us shade from the hot sun.