He who plants a tree plants a hope. -Lucy Larcom

When is the last time you thought about the way trees impact our lives? How about the last time you challenged your green thumb and planted a tree? Ask the average passerby about Arbor Day and they will likely have a vague memory of some type of tree-related event they attended in elementary school. Yes, Arbor Day has to do with trees, but what is the real purpose of the holiday?

Over 160 years ago, a young Nebraskan politician named J. Sterling Morton made it his mission to raise awareness about the importance of trees and get as many planted as possible. Morton understood that trees were necessary to provide windbreaks to prevent soil erosion, materials that could be used for fuel and construction, and shade. On January 4, 1872, he proposed the first tree-planting holiday to the State Board of Agriculture. He named the holiday Arbor Day. Almost a century later, President Richard Nixon made Arbor Day a legal holiday.

Sam DeMarais is the park forester for the city of Fargo, responsible for managing all the trees, shrubs, and flowers on Park District properties. In total, that includes 108 parks, 140 total park properties, 5 public golf courses, over 100 miles of bike trail, and a whopping 56,000 street trees. For DeMarais, Arbor Day is a unique and vitally important holiday.

“Arbor Day is a celebration of the life of trees in our environment and the benefits they provide us,” he said. “It is also about spreading awareness to the community about how important trees are and how they impact our lives.”

Arbor Day Photo

Every community celebrates Arbor Day in their own way. In Fargo, that celebration includes a large tree planting celebration on the 2nd Friday of May. According to DeMarais, the upcoming Arbor Day will see a planting at Madison Elementary. “The Park District, City of Fargo, River Keepers, and some other partners collaborate on the effort,” he explained. “About 300 middle school kids will join us to help plant 100 trees and learn about their significance.”

Thanks to the efforts of DeMarais and others like him, Fargo has been designated a Tree City as part of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program. To receive that designation, a city must have an Arbor Day celebration, a legally responsible representative of the city’s trees, a tree care ordinance, and at least $2 per capita allocated toward tree care.

There are currently only about 3,400 cities in the program, a statistic that highlights the exceptional depth of Fargo’s commitment to retaining a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Our city has been a Tree City since 1978.

For DeMarais, one of the primary facets of his job is increasing awareness within the community. “We are coming together to teach kids and the community about the importance of trees and how they impact our city,” he said. “Although Arbor Day is a one-day event on the 2nd Friday of May, trees and plants alike should be considered highly valuable renewable resources and thought of more often in regards to projects, stewardship, and community impact.”

More information about Fargo’s Forestry Department or its upcoming Arbor Day plans can be obtained at http://www.cityoffargo.com/CityInfo/Departments/Forestry.

By Jamee Larson