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Futures Investment: Northfield students plant, learn value of trees
April 30, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen - Amy Seiler, Community Forestry Specialist with the Nebraska Forest Service, shows Northfield Elementary School fourth graders how to prepare a tree seedling for planting.

It was a beautiful morning last Friday as fourth grade students from Gering’s Northfield Elementary School descended on Northfield Park, one of the state’s arboreta, to help plant trees.

In Nebraska, Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday of April and the customary observance is to plant a tree for future generations.

“The City of Gering has always done an Arbor Day celebration,” said Amy Seiler, Community Forestry Specialist with the Nebraska Forest Service. “We also present the city their Tree City USA Award at that time.”

Gering Park Director Ron Ernst said this year is the 26th time the city has received the award. “To qualify, a city has to have a tree board, ordinance and a tree plan, and an Arbor Day celebration. A qualifying city also has to spend two dollars per capital per year for things like trees, tree management and tree care.”

Seiler pointed out that Gering has received a growth award from Tree City USA every year for the past 23 years. “That means Gering is an outstanding community that goes above and beyond. They spend more on trees, do educational programs, and the tree board does a lot of activities in the community. Not many communities in the state get a growth award.”

Arbor Day was founded in 1872 in Nebraska City by J. Sterling Morton. On that first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in a state that had only about 100,000 people.

Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman read a proclamation for Arbor Day in Gering during the celebration. Seiler also talked with the fourth graders about the importance of trees and read a 1907 letter to America’s children about tree conservation from President Theodore Roosevelt.
After the opening presentation, students broke up into groups and planted 50 trees in the naturalized area of the park. That was followed by activities and games in the park. And each student took home a tree from the North Platte Natural Resources District to plant in their yards.

Seiler said diversity of the tree population is important so a specific disease or pest won’t wipe out all the trees in the city. This year, students planted burr oak, the hybrid oak burr gamble, Ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper and limber pine.
“Northfield Park is a great asset to the community and it’s very educational,” Seiler said. “People can come here and see what trees grow well in our area for ideas of what they should be planting in their own landscapes.”

She added that local nurseries often plant a particular species of tree in the park to see how it grows. With good results, the nurseries begin to sell them to the public.

Results of tree growth in the park are also used by the city to compile a list of recommended trees for planting in residential areas. The city also has a program in place that reimburses residents for some of the cost of a recommended tree. Check with the city for details.

“Gering has a strong commitment to trees because they’re actually part of the infrastructure,” Seiler said. “Trees cool the community to reduce energy costs and actually preserve our streets from having to be resurfaced so often. And trees capture a number of pollutants from the air.”

A interesting fun fact: J. Sterling Morton served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland. Morton’s son, Joy Morton, founded Joy Morton and Company, which later became Morton Salt.

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