LA GRANDE — The city of La Grande’s urban forester Teresa Gustafson said her favorite trees are the Ginkgos that sit along Washington Avenue. During fall months they turn golden and shower the street with their petals.
“Our goal is to plant 100 shade trees every year in the city,” Gustafson said.
The numerous trees, she also explained, make La Grande a vibrant place to live, with cooler streets and homes, habitat for wildlife, cleaner air and water and other benefits.
The city celebrated its 31st year as a Tree City USA member on Arbor Day, Friday, April 30. Last year, La Grande won a Growth Award for the 29th consecutive year, one of only a handful of cities to do so nationwide. The city hopes to win the award once again this year.
Among the colorful flowering peach and plum trees that bloom in spring, the city is host to two Oregon Heritage Trees. Those are trees the Heritage Tree Committee, under the Oregon Travel Information Council, deem as worthy of state recognition.
One of the earliest pioneers to the area, James Baker, happened across the treeless plain and began planting in the mid-19th century. The Baker black locust tree at Eastern Oregon University is one of the surviving trees that he planted during his stay. The tree stood above the grave of Baker’s wife, Elizabeth. Trees that tell a story are one criteria for earning the honor, according to the Heritage Tree Committee’s website.
Gustafson said the black locust may be the oldest planted tree in La Grande at 136 years old.
In contrast, the newest legacy tree planted in La Grande came at last year’s Arbor Day celebration — a Hiroshima Peace tree planted from the seeds of trees that survived the nuclear bombing in 1945. Oregon holds the largest collection of such trees, and La Grande has two of them. The newest peace tree is in the greenway at Riverside Park.
Among other notable trees is a massive silver maple along Washington Avenue and Fir Street. August Stange, the man who once owned Stange Manor on Walnut Street, planted the tree, which now sits outside La Grande’s First Presbyterian Church.
Another set of noteworthy trees is a known as Victory Way, Norwegian maple trees planted in 1923 along Spruce Street, near Greenwood Elementary School, in celebration of the end of World War I.
Originally, there were nearly 250 trees, though construction and road widening over the years have reduced their numbers to just under two dozen.
Possibly the most photographed tree in the area lies outside of La Grande along Wallowa Lake Highway north of the city. There, motorists often stop and view the lone maple tree standing in a field in front of the Blue Mountains.
Travelers pull off to the side of the road lining up a shot of the massive tree as sun sets behind it. Local homebuilder Stacey Bowman of Mega Tiny Homes said it is one of his favorites.
Gustafson said she hopes the city will have a fully interactive tree inventory for horticulturists and hobbyists to peruse — a way to see what trees are in the area, their species names, and possibly even their history in an ArcGIS map. She said she is trying to complete the project by next Arbor Day.