Celebrating Arbor Day

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 10:07 p.m.
Friday is Florida's Arbor Day, so if you've a mind for trees, please come by Roper Park at 11:45 AM for the City Beautification Board's annual celebration of this important environmental holiday. What you'll see is a park "re-treed" for the future, based on the collective wisdom of the community.
Last September the Tree Advisory Board hosted a meeting to consider the future of trees in this beautiful neighborhood park which occupies the
entire block bounded by NE 2nd, 3rd Streets and 4th and 5th Avenues. Also at the meeting were residents who live near the park, landscape architects who helped renovate the park in the 1990s, and City staff. Organizations represented included the Duckpond Neighborhood Association, the Northeast Historic Garden Club, the City Beautification Board, and City of Gainesville Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
The ground of Roper Park has much historical significance in our community. It's named after James H. Roper, who built the first school in Gainesville in 1857. The current park was once the parade grounds and barracks of the East Florida Seminary, forerunner of the University of Florida.
The City bought the land in 1906. A monument beside a tree in the park commemorates World War I soldier Haisley Lynch, the only son of the community's long-time postmaster who served in the building that is now our Hippodrome Theater.
Gainesville is defined by its rich cultural heritage. Places like the Matheson Museum (formerly the American Legion hall), the Hippodrome, our historic neighborhoods, and public spaces for the enjoyment of scenery create the unique identity of our community.
The group that met at Roper Park last September wanted to assuring the future beauty and strength of the tree canopy. The Tree Appeals Board (a subset of the Tree Advisory Board) deliberated the fate of two very large laurel oaks shading the two areas for active recreation.
Like so many older laurel oaks, these trees had symptoms of extensive internal decay so the Board decided to remove the trees. Discussion proceeded toward a visualization of the new plantings.
Roper Park has healthy heritage live oaks and magnolias planted about 75-100 years ago which now exemplify the best of Gainesville's urban forest. Landscape architect Buford Davis, who had designed the 1990s upgrade to the park, spoke about his plan to establish a "magnolia alcove" at the north end. With the removal of one of the laurel oaks, three magnolias could be planted to complete the informal "room."
Roper Park neighbors and parents who regularly bring children to play recounted how they had raised the money for new recreation equipment and told of impromptu games in open areas and hopes for future recreation amenities.
On Jan. 7, thirty volunteers showed up at Roper Park to help plant some of the trees that will be featured at Friday's Arbor Day dedication. Half the volunteers were under the age of 12, so we had the next generation planting the next generation. The 25 new trees planted there are part of the 44 trees the City Beautification Board features in its annual ceremony celebrating Arbor Day, with two trees for every year Gainesville has been Tree City USA. The other trees have been planted at the Thomas Center and along Sweetwater Creek as it flows toward the Duckpond.
Light refreshments will be served at the Arbor Day ceremony, so it's an opportunity to have lunch, help plant a tree, hear the mayor and others speak about the urban forest, and lend support to the traditions that keep Gainesville a great "City in a Forest."
Neiderhofer is the city arborist.

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