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April 22 is Good Friday and Earth Day so we should all be in a good frame of mind to do our part to improve the world. Next Friday, we can put it to good use and plant some trees in celebration of Arbor Day. Surely we can top the first Arbor Day in 1872, when it was estimated that one million trees were planted in Nebraska alone.
It all started with a man named J. Sterling Morton, who set out for Nebraska Territory in 1854 with his wife to set up a new homestead. Nebraska, of course, is a plains state, and was virtually treeless before Morton and other pioneers settled the area and began to transform the area to meet their agricultural and horticultural needs.
Morton and his wife were avid ornamental gardeners and he was in a unique position to editorialize these interests as the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. Morton included many articles that encouraged homesteaders to plant trees for the most practical purposes: to combat soil erosion, to provide windbreaks, for building materials and fuel, for shade and for food.
Once Morton became the Secretary of Nebraska territory, he really made a concerted effort to get civic groups, school children and individuals involved in “arborizing” the land. He proposed an Arbor Day contest and on April 10, 1872 and prizes were awarded for planting the largest number of trees in one day.
Today, the tradition continues and the National Arbor Day Foundation continues the work that Morton started many years ago with the perspective that “each generation takes the earth as trustees—We ought to bequeath to prosperity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed.”
The National Arbor Day Foundation is committed to education and awareness about the planting and preservation of rural and urban forests and one of the best perks about becoming a member is that you receive 10 free seedlings. They offer various tree packages like “Flowering Trees” or the “Oak” package which includes two burr oaks, two pin oaks, two red oaks, two scarlet oaks and two willow oaks. For new members, $15 gets you a year’s membership and 10 free trees; if you don’t want the trees, you can opt for 10 to be planted in a U.S. forest in your honor.
The Arbor Day Foundation has more to offer, including resources to become a Tree City. In order to become a Tree City, there must be a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. What do you get in return? A smart image so good publicity, a framework for action and preference in grant money allocation. Visit the National Arbor Day Foundation at www.arborday.org for more information on becoming a member and a Tree City. Shelbyville and Frankfort have been Tree Cities for 13 years, Louisville for one year, Lexington for 22, and Owensboro for 20.
For the die-hard Arbor Day enthusiast, you can visit Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Neb. This 260 acre National Historic Landmark is an attraction that includes hiking trails, a 50’ tree house, a tree adventure for kids, a lodge, winery and more.
If you plan on staying closer to home, the simplest way to celebrate Arbor Day on April 29 (It is traditionally observed on the last Friday of April.) is to visit your local garden center and buy a tree for planting. You don’t have to be a member of the organization to play along. Happy spring!
(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at JWiche@shelbybb.net.)