In Alaska, Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Monday of May and was the idea of J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska who first proposed the tree-planting holiday in 1872.

It has been an honor to have started and hosted meaningful Arbor Day celebrations in our community since 1992. Over the years, these tree-planting celebrations have been at Matanuska River Park, Palmer City Hall, Pioneer Peak Elementary School and Trail of the Mountaineer, the Mat-Su Borough Central Landfill entrance, Palmer Visitor Center Veterans Grove and the Palmer Veterans and Pioneers Home.

These community occasions have been faithfully supported by the American Legion Post No. 15/Ladies Auxiliary/Sons of the American Legion; Palmer High School; Mat Su Borough Parks and Outdoor Recreation; Mat-Su Trails Council; Cub Pack 367/Boy Scout Troop 367; city of Palmer; Matanuska Electric Association; Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union; Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District; all military branches; and various local businesses.

In demonstration of his passion for promoting arboriculture, Bill Jardel, the state’s first certified arborist, has taught tree care and planting techniques to youth through senior citizen participants at 19 of the 20 events.

According to John Kelly, Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation program coordinator, trees can be effectively used to establish visual screens and buffers, for aesthetics, to add form and shape to the landscaping or planting site, air filtration and as a commemoration.

This last item is poignant, in that I designed and established the Veterans Grove as a formal setting located next to the Palmer Visitor Cabin as a living recognition of and legacy to our Veterans. The project was constructed and planted in 2001.

Under tutorship as a Scout leader, many boys were introduced to military service members and veterans while learning to plant and take care of trees. The outgrowth and success of the grove exceeded the available land on the center grounds and for a number of years now, planting celebrations have moved across the street to the Palmer Veterans and Pioneers Home front and back lawn areas.

As a direct result of this effort, Boy Scout Troop 367/Cub Scout Pack 367 was recognized with an award from the National Arbor Day Foundation award this year.

As part of Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation’s 2012 Arbor Day program, new and existing partners are getting involved in Arbor Day and thereby expanding the planting-scape as follows:

• Willow Elementary School — This is the first time that Willow is serving as the Borough’s official Arbor Day ceremony site. Mayor Larry DeVilbiss will present his official proclamation to the group during a special dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony. Suzanne Bounds’ fourth- fifth-grade class will walk in the steps of Johnny Appleseed as students plant white spruce trees to commemorate special people in their lives. And Jardel will teach and oversee tree care and planting.

• City of Wasilla — Water and Wastewater Supervisor John Becker will manage the planting of spruce trees as visual screens to city water utility sites.

• City of Houston — City Clerk Sonya Dukes has instituted tree planting as a means to see the city incorporate more “sustainable community” projects. Spruce trees will be planted along the Little Su River in the Little Su River Campground.

• City of Palmer — City Water Sewer Operator/Lab Technician Dane Shaver will coordinate a planting project as part of a landscaping technique to create an aesthetically pleasing natural screening between the wastewater plant and the adjacent subdivision.

• Mat-Su College — In conjunction with University of Alaska Anchorage’s tree replacement policy, Mat-Su College will plant spruce trees on a 2:1 basis under the care of Plant Manager Eric Blomskog.

Free trees are being made available through the Mat-Su Borough Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division. Warren Templin, Manager of Park Operations, administers the National Tree Trust program funded by the State Division of Forestry Urban and Community Forestry program.

This is a genuine Alaska Grown project. The seeds source is Big Lake. The Plant Materials Center provided immunization services and the trees were potted and nurtured by Don Berberich’s Future Farmers of America class at Palmer High School and borough parks staff. All Arbor Day planters and contributors throughout the Valley from years past, as well as this year are appreciated.

John Schirack, WSWCD Board Chairman and long-time Valley resident encourages everyone to follow accepted tree etiquette by planting two trees for every tree that is harvested. Consult a Valley nursery and landscape supplier for recommendations on proper varieties and hardy species. Alaska grown trees are best.

If you can’t attend the official celebration, make your own Arbor Day plans and plan to make it a family tradition. Plant for a functional, memorable or emotional reason — just plant! And, as Bill Jardel always stresses, “…don’t forget to water!”

Chuck Kaucic is a 30-year Valley resident and long-time community volunteer who serves as the Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District Manager. For tree, soil test, or conservation information, contact him at 357-4563, Ext. 103.

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