Gainesville pays tribute to its many trees


Published: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.

After days of freezing temperatures, it appears that Mother Nature got the memo.

Specifically, she got the one about Gainesville's Arbor Day celebration and turned on the sunshine for the outdoor event held Thursday at the Kirby Smith Center.

The focus was certainly on planting trees. But it was also about these trees. future. With new technology, urban forests will be expected to play a major role in renewable energy sources.

Dozens of city officials and employees, businesspeople and residents attended the event celebrating Gainesville's 26th year as Tree City USA with the planting of the last of 52 trees -- two for every year that Gainesville has been a Tree City -- in observance of this year's Arbor Day.

Organizers encouraged all to participate in the planting, no matter their age or occupation. Golden shovels were on hand to get the job done.

The youngest participant appeared to be Anna Adams, 3, of Gainesville, who attended the event with her grandparents and assisted with the ceremonial live oak.

“I liked digging,” Anna said. “I love digging!”

“She's been going around to all of the trees. It's fun for her to be outside,” said Joan Adams, 77, Anna's grandmother.

Future generations are a vital component and consideration in the maintenance of Gainesville's urban forest, said those who spoke at Thursday's event.

Speakers Eileen Roy, Alachua County School Board member, Paula DeLaney, Alachua County commissioner, and Robert Hutchinson, director of the Alachua Conservation Trust, all mentioned children and the environmental generational gap in their addresses.

“So many of our children these days spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen or television playing video games and doing all those kinds of things,” DeLaney said. “It's so important that our school curriculum continue to reinforce for young people how very important the environment is and planting trees and taking care of what we have.”

The young trees also require special attention. Though National Arbor Day is in April, city arborist Meg Niederhofer explained that planting earlier in Florida is better for growth. The trees demand less water in colder temperatures when they do not have leaves. April droughts can be a threat, so planting earlier gives saplings better survival odds.

This survival is vital when investing in Gainesville's urban forest, the Neiderhofer said.

The theme for this year's Arbor Day was “Conservation in Lean Times,” and the pure dollar value of arboreal contribution was calculated in several ways during Thursday's event.

One is the return on investment. In Gainesville, the return on investment in trees is 500 percent, arrived at after comparing the cost of maintaining trees in the public right of way with the natural services rendered such as soil conservation, clean air and temperature management, Niederhofer said.

Also, maintaining green space adjacent to real estate lots can add up to $8,000 in property value, Hutchinson said.

But it's not just about the bottom line and services provided. The heritage and beauty of Gainesville's urban forest stands out to residents and visitors, they explained. While many cities are encouraged to reach 20 percent canopy cover, Gainesville's is 50 percent.

Recently Enterprise Rent-A-Car added a facility in Gainesville, bringing more than 100 new jobs to the local economy. Executives specifically cited Gainesville's commitment to greenery as part of the reason for their choice, Niederhofer said.

This commitment is also evident at a personal level. John Baker, 69, of Gainesville is running out of planting spots in his backyard. His wife tells him he needs to buy an empty lot just for his green friends.

“I love trees. They're long-lasting. They bring birds, squirrels. Shade in the summer. Color in the fall. I love red maples. Live oaks. Magnolias,” Baker said.

This passion apparently is contagious. High Springs recently became a Tree City USA. Newberry will soon follow with assistance from county programs and grants.

As Dave Conser, senior forester for Alachua County, explained, “I think there's just a greater dedication to Arbor Day here in Gainesville than anywhere else. It's spreading and catching on in other places.”

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