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Students plant maple tree in Riverside Park, City of La Grande earns Tree City USA award
by KELLY DUCOTE / The Observer
A red sunset maple tree was planted Wednesday at Riverside Park in observance of Arbor Day.
Residents and Island City Elementary students gathered at the park for an award ceremony and a brief lesson on the importance of trees in the community.
“Trees clean the air and provide oxygen. Trees save water and reduce water pollution,” Kevin Lair, vice chair of the Community Landscape and Forestry Commission, told a group of Island City Elementary students. “Trees add value to our homes and make our neighborhoods more inviting. Trees provide green spaces for play and relaxation.”
More than 140 years after J. Sterling Morton first proposed a tree-planting holiday in Nebraska, the City of La Grande was awarded its 23rd Tree City USA Award and its 21st Growth Award by the Arbor Day Foundation. In addition to planting 40 trees in the downtown area in 2012, the City of La Grande also completed the first phase of the Grande Ronde River greenway project with a pedestrian bridge at Riverside Park.
“Our mission is to promote trees throughout the great state of Oregon,” said Brian Kelly of Oregon Community Trees.
One method of promotion is to recognize people who do good things on behalf of trees, Kelly said.
“It’s not just that they’re pretty. They’re also good for business downtown,” he said.
Island City Elementary students plant a red sunset maple tree during Arbor Day ceremonies Wednesday in La Grande. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
The City of La Grande gave out some awards of its own to Oregon Youth Authority RiverBend and Joe Kresse for community partnership and volunteerism, respectively. Young men from RiverBend have put in more than 1,000 hours so far this year helping the city plant trees. Kresse, who served on the La Grande Landscape and Forestry Commission from 2007 to 2012, was honored for his dedication to promoting the city’s urban forestry program.
Awards were also given to Island City Elementary students who competed in a poster contest with the theme “Trees are Terrific in My Urban Forest.”
“The contest encourages students to learn about the role that trees play in our community,” said Teresa Gustafson, urban forestry tree care educator. “I had an opportunity to visit the classrooms and talk about the urban forest as an ecosystem, and then the students created posters to illustrate the importance of trees in our urban areas.”
The posters are on display through the end of the month at F. Maxine and Thomas W. Cook Library and at city hall.
Students then were given the opportunity to help plant the red sunset maple with some guidance from Gustafson.
“This is a container tree, so the first thing we have to do is take it out of the pot,” she told the students. “We want to loosen the roots so they will grow sideways and build a sturdy root system.”
Once the tree was in place, guests from the City of La Grande and students took turns filling in the soil.
“Kids are great because they’re enthusiastic and receptive, and they take everything home to their family,” Gustafson said after the tree was planted and watered. “People like trees. They think they’re pretty, but they don’t realize everything trees do for us 24/7. I think the earlier kids are exposed to the importance of trees the better.”