Nebraska’s 150th Arbor Day was celebrated in Grand Island Friday with a tree-planting event at Pioneer Park.
The national event was started in Nebraska in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton, who, arriving from Illinois, realized that Nebraska did not have many trees.
“He found that having trees preserved the environment,” Grand Island Parks Superintendent Barry Burrows explained. “It stopped erosion. It was healthy for everybody to breathe fresh air. Windbreaks are a big thing, because there are so many big winds in Nebraska.”
A fall fiesta sugar maple was donated for Friday’s event by Grand Island’s Betsey Hager Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
Important to planting a tree is finding the right spot.
The sugar maple was planted on the east edge of the park, along Elm Street.
The spot was ideal, as it was a spot where shade is needed, Burrows said.
“This park needs a lot of trees,” he said. “A lot of improvements (are being done) to this park, and we need to improve the park ourselves.”
The newer variety of sugar maple grows faster, is more disease-resistant and will turn from yellow-orange to red in fall and hold the color.
“We have a few down at the arboretum, and it’s one of our biggest trees we have comments from, when it gets its fall colors,” Burrows said. “I thought, this park doesn’t have a lot of color in the fall, so let’s start putting some colorful trees here.”
DAR Regent DeAnna Gillian Way recited a poem by May Bryant titled “Arbor Day” and offered a prayer at the event.
“It was very honoring to be able to plant a tree in our parks,” Way said.
DAR always has valued conservation and planting trees.
“In fact, for the nation’s 250th anniversary, which is in 2026, the DAR is planting trees 150 miles from Pittsburgh along the route to Washington, D.C., honoring our revolutionary day patriots,” Way said.
City Parks and Recreation Director Todd McCoy called Friday’s celebration “a beautiful event.”
“It’s a beautiful day to plant a tree,” McCoy said. “Arbor Day is something we embrace in the Parks and Recreation Department.”
Trees improve the quality of life, and have many other benefits for the community, he said.
“They help with our environment. They help with stormwater. They help with shade,” McCoy said. “They just make our parks system, our community, a better place to live.”
Seven trees were recognized Friday by the Hall County Champion Tree Program, as well.
Because there weren’t many submissions last year due to the pandemic, this year’s honors were for both 2019 and 2020.
Leon VanWinkle, a Grand Island Tree Board member, had five trees of the seven recognized, including a green ash that is 96 feet tall with 73-foot spread and 135-inch circumference.
Also honored were Doug Taylor’s honey locust, and Kent Wilke’s American sycamore.
The program not only honors great Grand Island trees, but helps to save them, Burrows said.
“A couple of years ago, there was a gal, (she and her husband) were going to chop their tree down until they heard about the program, so they applied, nominated their tree and we said, yes, that’s a champion,” he told a crowd at Pioneer Park. “So she went out after we told her that, put a big ribbon around it and now they’re not going to cut it down.”
For more information on the Hall County Champion Tree Program and Grand Island Tree Board, visit giparks.com/departments/parks-and-recreation/parks-division/tree-board.