By Jeanne Mueller, Cedarburg Green
“2020 is the year to focus on trees” read the headline in Cedarburg’s local newspaper. In January, a proclamation signed by Cedarburg’s mayor kicked off Cedarburg Green’s yearlong, multi-faceted promotion of trees. Cedarburg Green’s first success, a community talk on “Selecting the Right Trees for your Yard”, exceeded attendance expectations by over 225%. Interest in trees at this standing-room-only, inaugural event, held on February 24, seemed to be setting the stage for great things to come. Another hopeful sign was the mounting orders for trees being received as part of the organization’s annual bare-root tree sale.
As well, Arbor Day 2020 plans were well underway for not one (as in a normal year) but five tree planting ceremonies to be held at the three local grade schools, one middle school, and one high school. In all, ten trees were to be planted in recognition of the winners of the district-wide “Benefits of Trees” student art and writing contest organized by Thelma Heidel-Baker, Ph.D., Scientist in Residence. Concurrently, Dr. T. was working with Kevin Westphal, Cedarburg City Forester, to identify 70 of Cedarburg’s high-profile street trees. Students were to be enlisted to research the ecological impact, benefits, and value of these trees. Complied data was to be printed on large, 11×17 price tags and tied to the trees in hopes that people will begin to recognize and value trees beyond mere municipal objects.
Back at city headquarters, an order for 60 street trees was placed by Kevin in anticipation of the group’s May 25th community-wide, street tree planting day. Volunteers were already signing up and plans being made to engage homeowners in the planting of or participating in the planting of “their” tree. Anticipated social media posts and shares were to reach epic proportions! Truly, 2020 was on track to be “the year to focus on trees.”
Then, on March 25 an order of a different kind came from Governor Evers. Canceled were Cedarburg Green’s Arbor Day celebrations, in-person school, and community events. Focus on survival outweighed a focus on trees.
“He who plants a tree plants a hope.” – Lucy Larcom
As planned, 60 bare-root trees arrived at the municipal building in mid-April. Instead of a myriad of eager tree planters, city crews (physically distanced in teams of two) quietly planted trees along the street medians. Invitations to plant turned into adoption proposals. An excerpt from an article in the local newspaper states:
“Although homeowners weren’t able to participate in the planting of ‘their’ tree, they can adopt the tree and make it part of their family,” he [Kevin] suggested. “Generations from now, stories will be told about this great pandemic the world is currently struggling with and then point to the tree…which, like us, not only survived but thrives.”
The following Saturday, a properly masked and gloved Kevin loaded trees into homeowners’ vehicles. Buyers were encouraged to share tree planting photos via Facebook and e-mail. Forgoing a “live” bare-root tree planting lesson, new tree planters were directed to Cedarburg Green’s website to view the 2019 tree planting video.
Dr. T pivoted to an all-digital art and writing contest. Students were encouraged to send a digital copy of their entries and keep the original for a future TBD in-person event. Tree price tags were put on hold with hopes of a Fall or Spring 2021 deployment.
With everyone sheltered-in-place, Cedarburg Green submitted articles to the local newspaper and posted to its Facebook page and website to keep engagement high. The word was still getting out and yes, a photo of two city workers backfilling a hole around a common hackberry tree IS news. In addition, Cedarburg Green’s president, John Norquist, wrote a Letter to the Editor.
“This Friday is Arbor Day, and our scheduled ‘2020 Focus On Trees’ planting events had to be canceled because of COVID-19. In the midst of stress and anxiety, witness the power of life emerging in buds that have waited all winter for this moment and breathe in the possibility they hold. Our world is a better place because of trees, and it is worth our collective attention and gratitude.”
COVID-19 tried its best to upset the apple cart of Cedarburg Green’s Arbor Day and Year of the Tree plans. A few apples fell…but the tree remains alive and able to produce more leaves and fruit – carrying on with the process of life and the promotion of trees.
Cedarburg Green, a nonprofit organization focused on caring for and promotion of Cedarburg’s Urban Forest, received a 2020 Urban Forestry grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The goal of Cedarburg Green’s 2020 Focus on Trees initiative is to create more tree-educated decision makers, residents, and future homeowners (our children).
Cedarburg Green’s plans have expanded to include a partnership with the Cedarburg Public Library’s reading of “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, an NEA Big Read Event. As well, promoting the reading of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book, “The Overstory: A Novel” by Richard Powers.
In addition, Cedarburg Green fast-tracked the updating of “Trees of Distinction: A walking introductory tour of the Trees of Cedarburg” booklet in hopes of educating those venturing outside to learn about trees. Plans for round two of a community-wide, street tree planting day slated for Fall 2020 are being revisited and plans for a public display of award winning entries from the student art and writing contest are being coming together.