In 1972, John Rosenow created the Arbor Day Foundation with a mission to “inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.” The Arbor Day holiday was founded a century earlier in 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska by Julius Sterling Morton, a Michigan transplant who moved to the territory before it became a state. Morton was a successful newspaper editor who built a 52-room mansion that mirrored the White House, and it has since become part of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park. The park covers 72 acres and contains nearly 270 varieties of trees and shrubs. In the last several decades, it has boasted multiple state champion trees, and contains multiple different orchards with a variety of apples.
This forward thinking gave people around the nation reason to value trees, and it led to the establishment of the Tree City USA program, hosted by the National Arbor Day Foundation. To become a Tree City member, cities must meet four requirements: they must establish a tree board run by a forester or arborist; must have a municipal tree care ordinance; must establish a community forest program with a minimum $2 per capita (of the population) budget; and must organize an Arbor Day observance annually.
One city that meets these standards we randomly chose (okay, that’s a lie, it is my hometown!) is Urbana, Illinois, home to the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. In Urbana, there exists the prestigious “State Street Tree Trail” which is comprised of 150 different trees with no species representing more than 10% of the population. Urbana was designated a Tree City in 1975, and today has more than 12,000 state trees, 6,000 park trees, and over 100,000 privately owned trees. Urbana is one of the few remaining charter chapters of the original Tree City designation.
But back to the “root” of the story. Ha, ha. Get it? The Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska is a place for people of all ages to come and learn about the importance and beauty of the trees that call the United States home. With tours specifically geared to children, adults and teachers of all walks, the Farm is truly an educational venue. But the folks there know that not everyone can make it out to Nebraska, so to help those that may be a little further out of town, they have an informative website that can tell you what kind of tree bests suits your environment; as well provides extensive information on the various species which includes tree-specific care instructions. The site also has informational articles on the vast benefits of trees, such as their ability to control stormwater, fight climate change, save energy and much more.
When I was in 2nd grade, I was chosen to go to a local Arbor Day celebration. Two kids were chosen from all the local grade schools in the county; that has been my only award to date, but I digress. As a parting gift I was given a lodgepole pine sapling, and I planted in it my grandma’s backyard. Today, that tree is nearly 100 feet tall (that should clue you in to how old I am), it provides great shade to the residents and is home to birds, squirrels and a few housecats. Trees are necessary on so many levels, and to boot, they can be integral to our personal history. Who hasn’t had a lazy day as a child that didn’t involve at least one significant tree? Perhaps Shel Silverstein’s 1964 publication of The Giving Tree summed it up best: “Oh, the tree was happy.”