Every year for Arbor Day, the city of Statesboro unfurls a Tree City USA flag. But this year, the flag is a special one marking Statesboro’s 25th year with the Tree City USA designation.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting was partly tree-themed. Mayor Jonathan McCollar issued the annual Arbor Day Proclamation, and he and the council welcomed the flag, appointed a new member to the city Tree Board and received the poster-sized ceremonial check for a $5,000 grant to replace trees lost to a hurricane.
The first Arbor Day, Statesboro Tree Board Chairman Wesley Parker informed the city’s elected officials, was held in 1594 in Spain, where it was started by a city.
“So let that be an inspiration to you. Big things can start at the city level,” Parker said. “Now mayor, I want to inspire you because back in (1594) that mayor threw a banquet for the whole city. It was actually a party that lasted three days.”
That drew laughter from mayor, council and audience but no promise of a mayor-funded banquet. Arbor Day was first observed in the United States in 1872 in Nebraska, where 1 million trees were planted that year. Georgia’s first Arbor Day was in 1890, Parker noted.
The proclamation McCollar signed contains several preamble clauses, such as, “Whereas, trees can reduce the erosion of our topsoil by wind and water, lower our heating and cooling costs, moderate the temperature, clean the air, produce oxygen and provide habitat for wildlife,” and “Whereas, trees are a renewable resource …”.
Several days, really
It gives Feb. 15 as the date of Arbor Day in Statesboro, but the Tree Board and the city Beautification Commission plan a number of Arbor Day-related events on different days. The city boards, made up of volunteers, and the Streets and Parks Division, consisting of city employees, work with other groups on the various projects.
“When we plan our activities, we spread it out from February to April because we have a lot of people wanting us to work with them and partner with them, so it’s hard to have everything just on one day,” said Streets and Parks Superintendent Robert Seamans.
First, a youth group from the Statesboro-Bulloch County Library will partner with the city organizations to plant some trees on the Willie McTell Trail, Parker said. He gave no specific date, and Seamans said this project is still being planned.
Second, on March 24, an event is planned in the Marvin Avenue Park off Fair Road. The Beautification Commission and Tree Board will ask neighborhood residents for input on what they would like to see in a revitalization of the park, Seamans said.
Third, on April 21, the city-hosted organizations will participate in the Spring Into Statesboro event hosted by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. The Tree Board holds an annual tree and shrub giveaway in association with this Saturday festival.
Meanwhile, the Tree Board, in cooperation with the Georgia Forestry Commission, partners with a local school each year on a tree-planting project. Last year, six trees were planted at Sallie Zetterower Elementary School, which is the partner school again this year, Parker said.
“The principal approached us and said they wanted Phase 2,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, we can give you Phase 2.’ We’ve got six more trees for Phase 2.”
Schools can apply to the board for tree planting projects, Seamans said after the meeting.
The big check represented a $5,000 ReLeaf Grant from the Georgia Urban Forest Council to replace trees damaged or lost to Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. City Council authorized applying for it last year, Parker noted.
Seamans is a member of the Georgia Urban Forest Council but abstained from the grant decision, which was handled by a committee, he said.
Statesboro’s grant was awarded for “replacing trees lost during Hurricane Matthew in Edgewood Acres Park, Willie McTell Walking Trail and Eastside Cemetery” states a summary on the Georgia Urban Forest Council website. Other 2017 ReLeaf Grant recipients were the town of Thunderbolt in metro Savannah, Thomasville Landmarks Inc., which maintains park spaces in Thomasville, and the Jekyll Island Authority.
The grant should add about 30 trees to the number the city will plant this year, Seamans said. Last year, he said, the city and Tree Board planted about 68 trees and gave away 40 to 50 more.
What’s a Tree City?
The Arbor Day Foundation awards the Tree City USA designation.
“They base it on quite a few things,” Seamans said.
A requirement for a tree board or department is the first of four standards listed on the www.arborday.org website. Second is a tree care ordinance. In Statesboro, this is contained in the city’s Green Space Ordinance, Seamans said.
Third, the city must have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita.
“We far exceed that. We average above $10 per person a year for the city of Statesboro,” Seamans said.
Since Statesboro has about 30,000 residents, that means spending about $300,000 annually. Just $60,000 or so would meet the Tree City minimum.
The spending includes salaries, maintenance costs for walking trails, city parks and city-owned Eastside Cemetery, “any of your greenspace structure” in addition to any planting materials, he said. Not only the efforts of the parks and streets staff, but some of the work of the stormwater crew, can be counted.
Fourth, a Tree City USA must have an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.
“There’s a lot more to it than just planting a tree,” Seamans said.
City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Rose Bonner, a certified arborist with a degree in horticulture, to the nine-member Statesboro Tree Board. Bonner, previously a city employee, had applied for the appointment and received the current board’s unanimous endorsement. She fills a vacancy left by the death in December of John Karrh, a retired professor and engineer.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.