Late April is the time of year when Americans are urged, through a variety of educational events, to give extra thought to preserving the natural environment. While we’re busy honoring Earth Day, launched in 1970, we sometimes forget that another holiday with a similar theme has been around a whole lot longer. The earliest known equivalent of Arbor Day happened in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo in 1594; the original US version was organized in Nebraska City, Nebraska in April 1872, with more than a million trees planted.
Now the Town of Gardiner has officially joined in the effort: On Saturday morning, April 24, the town hosted its first-ever Arbor Day gathering at George Majestic Memorial Park. Close to 100 citizens gathered for a socially distanced celebration of conservation and reforestation, culminating in the planting of the fifth of five new baby trees. The first four – a sugar maple, a red maple, a black birch and a dogwood – were already in the ground, the goals of a “Tree Walk” scavenger hunt that was one of the day’s featured activities.
The festivities began in the field alongside the pole barn with a sound check by Gardiner resident Tim Hunter, who noted, observing the fine weather, “Mother Earth seems to have been very cooperative with this event.” He introduced a young girl named Ruby Mayer, who warmed up the crowd with some tree jokes, including one she made up herself. Then Ruby’s mother, event organizer Kim Mayer of Climate Smart Gardiner, took the microphone to announce the agenda and thank the many individuals, organizations, agencies and businesses who had helped make Arbor Day happen.
Mayer also used the occasion to recruit volunteers for a massive “Trees for Tribs” planting party scheduled for Saturday, May 8 beginning at 9 a.m., along the banks of the Wallkill River. She explained that Climate Smart Gardiner had been awarded a $1,000 grant from the New York State Urban Forestry Council to fund the project. “In two weeks, we are planting 300 trees, so we need lots of muscle. It’s the biggest tree-planting project we’ve done.”
Next up to speak was Gardiner councilman Franco Carucci, who gave an overview of the history of Arbor Day in America, noting that it was a response to an urgent need: Up until 1910, the country was losing 8.75 million acres of forest per year, largely to clear land for agriculture. The organizer of the 1872 Nebraska Arbor Day event, J. Sterling Morton – a newspaper editor who later went on to become Secretary of Agriculture – argued that this rapid deforestation was unsustainable and would be a serious concern for generations to come. President Teddy Roosevelt then took up the banner for Arbor Day and issued a proclamation in 1907 urging schools across America to educate children to appreciate trees and to organize tree-planting events. The annual commemoration went on to become an international phenomenon.
Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic thanked various municipal employees and volunteers involved in beautifying Gardiner, pitched an opening on the Parks and Recreation Committee and then read an official proclamation to “urge all citizens to support efforts to protect our trees and woodlands.” She introduced Maggie Ziegler, 11, and Ennis Adler, 12, who had volunteered to serve as “tree stewards” responsible for the newly planted saplings. “We have to water it four times and month and come and check on it,” Ziegler explained.
Two other local youngsters, New Paltz Middle School students Sean O’Sullivan and Ashlyn Hilderbrand, took turns reciting poems on the subject of trees. Tim Hunter then returned with his guitar to sing two songs that he wrote, “Plant a Tree” and “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.”
With the entertainment segment complete, the crowd moseyed over toward the playground, alongside of which a hole had been dug to plant the fifth baby tree. This one, a magnolia, was donated by Gardiner resident Holly Shader in memory of her recently deceased partner, Hudson Valley Repair Café founder John Wackman.
Staff from the New Paltz-based company Bloom Fine Gardening did the honors of setting the magnolia in the ground, demonstrating the proper procedure and offering advice to attendees who want to plant their own trees. Bloom co-owner Matthew Elkin noted that global warming ought to be taken into consideration when selecting a tree species for planting in these times: “It’s important to consider the climate 20 or 30 years from now,” he said.
The tutorial included best practices for site selection, planting depth, mulching, frequency of watering and pest protection as well. Once the memorial tree was properly set, some of the youngsters in attendance decorated the ring of mulch with dandelion heads. And then they were off to make the acquaintance of the other new trees and fill in the blanks in their Tree Walk booklets.
Persons interested in volunteering for the May 8 Trees for Tribs planting event can learn more and register at www.townofgardiner.org/climate-smart-gardiner-taskforce.