The woods of Woodlands got a little bigger this week as hundreds of local students dug in to plant some trees.
About 500 Grade 1 students romped through Willoughby Park Wednesday for St. Albert’s sixth annual Arbour Day event. With the help of city staff, they planted about 500 willow, lodgepole, dogwood and tamarack saplings near the park’s baseball diamond.
Two of them were Keenooshayo School’s Riley Kozak and Ty Davis. “I’m going to name this guy Pokey,” said Kozak, referring to a spiky mini-pine.
“This guy is Mr. Red,” added Davis, holding a willow.
“I got it in!” cried fellow planter Mackenzie Adams, hopping for joy. “Don’t pull it out!”
Adams and the other students also took home 500 trees to plant elsewhere after getting some tips from city arbourist Kevin Veenstra. “Don’t put them in Mom’s flower garden,” he said. “Make sure they have plenty of room to grow.”
They also learned a bit about the city’s forests from Mayor Nolan Crouse and Coun. Len Bracko. “We have some trees in St. Albert that are over 150 years old,” Crouse said to the students. “That’s older than Coun. Bracko!” he joked.
Staff and students have planted almost all the trees in St. Albert, Crouse said, including the tall ones behind him. “The trees you see here? Twenty-five years from now you will come back and you’re going to see your trees are going to look like these trees.”
Arbour Day was first celebrated on April 10, 1872, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, where agriculturalist J. Sterling Morton led Nebraska residents to plant about a million trees. It became an official event on April 22, 1885, spreading throughout the continent thereafter.
The city moved Arbour Day from last year’s site on Mission Hill due to upcoming renovations to Founder’s Walk, said Erin Gluck, the city’s community recreation co-ordinator, which could involve moving some trees. This part of Willoughby Park was also ripe for naturalization, as it was tough to mow and next to an existing forest.
In addition to planting trees, students had the chance to get their face painted, see a great horned owl, touch part of a 161-year-old tree and walk through a forest.
Forests are home to all sorts of birds and beasts because of the food they contain, recreation co-ordinator Roy Bedford said to the kids on the walk. “Even in a small wood like this one there are a whole range of animals,” he said — woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays and more.
Outdoor experiences such as tree planting help kids avoid “nature-deficit disorder,” said Crouse in an interview, referring to a growing disconnect from nature amongst young people described in Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. “It’s experiential learning,” he said — touching, smelling and feeling a tree should help these students better understand nature as a whole.
Trees sequester carbon emissions and are a big part of St. Albert’s botanic reputation, Crouse said. “We are as much an urban forest as an urban place to live,” he said. “What we get out of Arbour Day is a continuous reinforcement of this legacy. It will never die if you continue educating grade ones.”
St. Albert has about 52,000 trees and shrubs in its parks and boulevards, according to the 2009 Tree Inventory, not counting natural stands.