While we may be celebrating Arbor Day a bit differently this year, its significance remains the same

Celebrate Arbor Day (4)

As communities, schools, organizations, companies, and residents adjust to a new routine, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the air. While many Arbor Day events across the nation are being cancelled, the spirit of Arbor Day remains strong. This public health crisis has most definitely pushed us all outside our norm and has taught us to be more creative in finding ways to celebrate trees and connect with nature.

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. J. Sterling Morton, a Michigan native, pioneer and journalist championed the idea of a “tree planting holiday” in the Nebraska Territory. In the 1800’s the plains had been cleared for building materials, fuel and farming. The pioneers quickly warmed up to the idea of planting trees because trees reminded them of the homes they left in the east, and they needed windbreaks to reduce soil erosion, and shade from the hot sun.

Morton became the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. He used that forum to spread agricultural information and the need for trees. On January 4, 1872 he proposed an April tree planting holiday to the State Board of Agriculture. He advocated tree planting by individuals and by civic organizations for the public good. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for properly planting the most trees. It is estimated that Nebraskans planted over 1 million trees that first Arbor Day.

Each year, the Governor and Michigan Legislature proclaim the last week in April as ‘Arbor Week’ and ‘Arbor Day’ as the last Friday of that week. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance has held the state of Michigan’s celebration at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing for the last 24 years and 2020 would have been the 25th celebration. Each year, over 1,000 second and third grade classes are invited to attend to celebration, where they learn all about trees and assist with a tree planting on the zoo’s grounds. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance is hoping to reschedule an Arbor Day event for this fall.

The Arbor Day Foundation, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance and the Michigan DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry programs offer the following ideas as alternative ways for communities and citizens to celebrate this year:

  • Support your local nursery, landscaping business, or conservation district when buying trees
  • Learn about the benefits of trees and forest online at the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance or Arbor Day Foundation and share information via social media.
  • Plant a tree in your yard or adopt a city tree to care for this year
  • Go for a hike through the woods at a local park. Find a park close to you at Discover the Forest. 
  • Consider delaying your public tree planting events until the fall, a perfectly appropriate time for planting and celebrating trees
  • Promote and host a virtual Arbor Day, using your city’s cable access channel or social media to demonstrate how to properly plant and care for a tree.
  • Encourage residents and children to create colorful tree-themed pictures and artwork and post them in the window of their homes and businesses
  • Promote community/neighborhood sidewalk chalk art celebrating trees and Arbor Day and encourage walking tours and sharing of photos online.
  • Reading and writing stories, poems and songs about trees.
  • Encourage residents to post pictures of their favorite trees on social media.
  • Livestream a story about trees or share videos of librarians reading the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer.
  • Host a Tree ID Challenge encouraging citizens to send photos and ask questions
  • Solicit tree-related questions to a city arborist via email and answer the questions via videos posted on your community’s website or social media.

“Trees are an important part of our lives in ways we don’t often recognize or appreciate”, said Kevin Sayers, DNR Urban Forester. “They truly are a celebration of life, both for us today and for those in the future.”

Hannah Reynolds, the Arbor Day Coordinator for Michigan, said “trees and forests enrich our lives in many ways, but perhaps one of the greatest things they are doing for us right now is improving our mental health. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors and in a forest setting reduces stress and anxiety. I can attest to that, because each time I immerse myself in nature, I am overcome with calmness.”

No matter how you decide to celebrate trees this year, be inspired, be creative, be safe and have fun. Others will be thankful for your efforts today and in the future.


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