26 years as Tree City USA

Arbor Day celebration

Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.

For Meg Niederhofer, Gainesville's city arborist for the past 21 years, the most enjoyable of the requirements to remain "Tree City USA" is celebrating another year of the city's canopy.

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City of Gainesville Nature Operations worker Kenny Coonradt plants a crape myrtle along the grounds of the Kirby-Smith Center in Gainesville Tuesday January 13, 2010. The city is planting two trees for the 26 years it has been designated a tree city in observance of the Gainesville Arbor Day Celebration on Thursday.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer


The Event

What: The last of 52 trees celebrating Arbor Day in Gainesville will be planted.
When: 11:45 a.m. Thursday
Where: Kirby Smith Center, 620 E. University Ave.
TREES: All who attend get involved
Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer

Apart from employing a city arborist, establishing an ordinance that provides guidance on planting and removing trees and having a group of volunteers dedicated to improving the livability of their community, Gainesville is required to have its annual Arbor Day celebration to keep its Tree City USA status for the 26th

consecutive year.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Social Affairs will plant the 52nd and final tree for its 2010 Arbor Day observance outside the Kirby Smith Center on Thursday.

The tradition in Gainesville since 2002 has been to plant two trees for every year the city has been an official Tree City. According to a second tradition, everyone present at the planting must throw dirt on the tree - this year a 13-foot live oak - with a golden shovel.

According to Meg Niedherhofer, this year's celebration will focus on the financial benefits of trees.

Gainesville's tree canopy, which the University of Florida's School of Forest Resources and Conservation estimates at 3 million trees, provides $75 million per year in financial benefits such as flood prevention and pollution mitigation, she said. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that each tree provides $25 in real estate and aesthetic value, which provides an additional $78 million to Gainesville.

Anita Spring, chairwoman of the City Beautification Board and a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, said that out of the 3,400 U.S. communities designated as Tree Cities, only 9 to 10 percent of them reach their silver anniversary. Spring attributes Gainesville's success at maintaining Tree City status to its naturally high tree canopy.

Niedherhofer, however, prefers to attribute it to Gainesville's love for trees rather than its natural endowment.

Everyone big and small is welcome to come together and show his or her appreciation for Gainesville's trees, Niederhofer said.

"The heart is the biggest muscle, and we need the hearts of the community to come together for this event," she said. "The trees are a part of the identity and character of our community."

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