For some, Arbor Day is just another Friday in April. For the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Our City Forest, it’s a lifestyle.
These nonprofit organizations in Michigan and San Jose have made trees their life’s work, and Arbor Day is the one day out of the year when most people share in their enthusiasm for planting and caring about trees.
So, what is Arbor Day?
Simply put, Arbor Day is a holiday to promote tree planting. It’s a day when many individuals and groups across the country are encouraged to pick up a shovel and plant a tree.
You may be asking yourself, ‘What can a tree do for me?’ Well, a lot actually.
- Help clean our air
- Contribute to good health
- Provide us with oxygen
- Help clean our drinking water
- Provide much-needed cooling
- Help us save energy
- Benefit wildlife
- Increase our property values
The Friends of Grand Rapids Park and Our City Forest have done their part.
Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
Founded in 2008, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is an independent, citizen led, nonprofit enterprise whose mission is to “identify specific park projects, mobilize people, and generate resources to protect, enhance, and expand the city’s parks and public spaces.”
In association with the City of Grand Rapids and FGRP, the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project was launched in 2011 as an effort to engage the entire community in growing a larger and healthier urban forest.
Arbor Day is no exception.
For Margaret Studer, program director of the Urban Forest Project, Arbor Day is like New Year’s Eve.
“It’s the big day,” Studer said. “We do our proclamation and let everybody know that we’re committed to the forest. It’s the biggest day for trees for the residents and the day they’re thinking about it the most. So it’s our opportunity to really jump in there and get them interested even more in the project and interested in caring for the trees after the trees are established.
“It’s definitely a team effort. Once you have established an urban canopy you need everybody to be committed to keeping it thriving.”
To celebrate Arbor Day, FGRP, the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, and the Grand Rapids Public Schools planted 150 trees in neighborhoods surrounding Mulick Park and Mulick Elementary.
Mulick Elementary School students and volunteers jump-started the celebration Thursday by planting trees on their school campus and along Griggs St SE.
For Arbor Day, volunteers planted street trees throughout the adjacent Mulick Park neighborhood, which helped Grand Rapids reach its 40 percent tree canopy goal. On Tuesday, the project already had over 150 confirmed volunteers.
“The volunteers are the backbone of this project because it’s going to be 100 percent planted by volunteers,” Studer said in the days leading up to Arbor Day. “We are going to be dependent on them coming out and really being ready to plant for it to be as successful as we know it’s going to be.”
And it’s the volunteers and people who haven’t always had the most exposure to trees and forestry that make Studer’s job worthwhile.
“It’s really rewarding,” she said. “Being able to be out there with them and showing them how crucial trees are I think is really important. Playing that extension role where people can come to me and we can have good conversations about the trees is important to me.”
Our City Forest
Since 1994, Our City Forest has been the leading environmental non-profit in the San Jose area.
It’s mission is to “cultivate a green and healthy Silicon Valley by engaging community members in the appreciation, protection, growth and maintenance of our urban ecosystem, especially our urban forest.”
Arbor Day, and really all of March and April, is the busiest time of year for OCF.
In honor of Arbor Day, OCF and its 65-plus volunteers finished a two-phase, 40-tree planting at Kelley Park near the Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose. Immediately after, they held a brief Arbor Day ceremony with a few city council members and other city officials.
Even OCF’s mascot, Treena the Tree, was in attendance, passing out free tree vouchers to zoo and park visitors.
Much like the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project, none of this would have been possible without the help of volunteers.
“Our volunteer numbers naturally increase during these spring months,” said Renae McCollum, community relations manager at OCF. “People tend to want to contribute to the environment and be better stewards of the Earth. OCF offers people of all ages and backgrounds and many opportunities to do so.
“We love all of our volunteers, especially our dedicated group of Tree Amigos, and we couldn’t make a difference in the community without them.”
It doesn’t stop with Arbor Day, either.
McCollum said OCF is always coming up with new projects.
“Our tree planting season continues through June. This past year we have been combating drought with our newest program, Lawn Busters. Our team will continue to convert water-thirsty lawns around Santa Clara County and turn them into drought-tolerant dreamscapes.”
Another big project, McCollum said, is developing OCF’s future educational site at Martial Cottle Park. The organization is hoping to create a space where the community can learn about the urban watershed, California native plants and beneficiaries, as well as trees that do well in cities.