St.LOUIS, Mo.—Thirty-five eighth-graders recently had a chance to touch the sky, in a figurative sense at least, and came down to Earth with greater appreciation of trees, thanks to the Tree City USA program.
Tree City USA is a recognition and certification program of the National Arbor Day Foundation for municipalities who meet designated tree care standards in their communities. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) administers the program for the Show-Me-State. Companion programs Tree Line USA and Tree Campus USA recognize similar efforts by utility companies and university campuses, respectively.
The eighth-graders were from the Normandy School District Seventh Eighth Grade Center in North St. Louis County. They immersed themselves in the 24:1 Arbor Day Celebration on April 18 at St. Louis County’s St. Vincent Park, put on by 15 Tree City USA-certified communities in the 24:1 Collaborative. The collaborative was formed by the non-profit organization Beyond Housing to serve the 24 communities of the Normandy School District.
“We celebrated trees,” said Doug Seely, Community Forester for Beyond Housing.
One of the requirements to achieve and maintain Tree City USA certification is to hold an annual Arbor Day Celebration during April. “So being the 24:1, and having smaller communities, we came together and had one big Arbor Day celebration,” Seely said.
“We want to spread the good news and benefits of trees and improve the community forest in the 24:1.”
Staff members from MDC’s Forestry Division were among those who assisted in putting on the event.
During the celebration the students got to sample activities like tree planting and removing invasive bush honeysuckle. The highlight of the day was getting to climb trees like professional arborists. The company Vertical Voyages outfitted the kids with proper climbing gear, including ropes, harnesses, saddles and safety helmets. After a safety orientation, the students got to ascend trees for a birds-eye view of the park.
“It’s fun, I want to go again, I want to go on a higher one!” exclaimed eighth-grader Aniya, who made it all the way to the top. “When I looked down it just amazed me how high I was,” she said.
Fellow student Kenneth said the tree climbing was his favorite too, but he also enjoyed planting trees and would like to do that more. “It gives me more experience when I help my grandparents to plant their trees,” he said.
Makhia learned all about bush honeysuckle. “Honeysuckle is not supposed to be here, so it’s killing all the native plants and all the native foods that the animals eat, so we have to cut it down,” said the eighth-grader. She also added that it was the most “nature work” she’d ever done.
Standards communities meet to be part of Tree City USA in addition to the Arbor Day celebration include:
Tree City USA has proven to be a successful program. It enables municipalities to provide their citizens with healthier, greener communities, along with building awareness for the benefits of trees. In Missouri the program broke 100 this year, with a total of 104 municipalities certified. 51 of those communities are in MDC’s St. Louis region.
“We have towns as small as Glen Echo Park with 130-or-so residents, all the way up to St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield,” said MDC St. Louis Community Forester Danny Moncheski.
Seely said he hopes the hands-on experiences these Normandy School District eighth-graders had during the 24:1 celebration can help move the spirit of Tree City USA into the future.
“I hope they learned a lot and that it sticks with them. If nothing else I think they gained a new respect for the outdoors and trees. That was one of the main goals,” Seely said.
To find out more about the Tree City USA program, including a list of all participating Missouri communities, search “Tree City USA” at mdc.mo.gov.