By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Hundreds of Hi-Line students are sinking their fingers into the dirt and helping trees take root this week as the Hometown Trees program swings into action for the 14th straight Arbor Day.
"This is like digging in my mom's garden and not getting in trouble for it," said Spencer Obresley, 8, as he filled rich dirt around the feathery roots of a Rocky Mountain blue spruce.
Obresley was among more than 200 Havre second-graders from Lincoln-McKinley Primary School and St. Jude Thaddeus School who came to Pepin Park on Monday to plant seedlings in 1-gallon plastic jugs. With diligent watering, the trees may eventually be transplanted into the ground wherever students have a mind to put them.
"I'm going to plant my tree in a pasture," said Jade Marden, 8, after watering his newly planted seedling.
Jamekka Beaumont, 8, said she was going to plant her blue spruce seedling at her grandmother's house in Hays.
"They don't look like much now, but if you take care of them they'll look beautiful some day," said Arlie Lane, a member of the TURF Committee, the local advisory board that plans the Hometown Trees program every year. Lane was distributing the seedlings after asking students whether they preferred a Rocky Mountain blue spruce or a mayday, a tree related to the Canadian red chokecherry.
Lane, along with several volunteers, including Havre Mayor Bob Rice and City Council member Pam Hillery, formed an assembly line of sorts to help the students plant the seedlings and water them. The last step was to plant the proper instructions for tree care in the students' heads before sending them back to school with their freshly planted charges.
"It's amazing when you walk around town how many you see" that have been planted by students in the last 14 years, Lane said. "If these new trees get watered for their first two to three years consistently, they'll make it."
The annual tree planting is the culmination of a series of activities intended to increase students' knowledge and appreciation of trees as part of the Hometown Trees program.
The program, which helped earn Havre the Gold Leaf Award for landscape beautification from the western region of the International Society of Arboriculture last year, is paid for by a combination of funding from the U.S. Forest Service and in-kind donations from local businesses, said Bob Ethridge of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
About $87,000 in Forest Service grants were distributed across the state this year to pay for Arbor Day activities, he said.
Ethridge oversees the Urban and Community Forestry Program, which supports programs like Havre's across the state. He was in Havre on Monday helping with the activities.
Most of the 39 Montana cities that qualify as "Tree Cities" get schools involved in their Arbor Day events, said Mark Lennon, a regional community forester with the DNRC who works with Havre and other Montana towns to coordinate the events.
Tree Cities must have a community tree ordinance, establish a tree board, help fund urban forestry development and hold Arbor Day celebrations, Lennon said.
Lennon said that ultimately the goal of the program is to help communities build self-sustaining urban forestry programs that citizens participate in.
"We can help a little bit, but in the end it needs to be supported by the people in the community," he said.
For the students, the activity helps drive home the significance of classroom lessons about plants, trees and how they grow, said second-grade teacher Stephanie McLain.
"They love it," McLain said. If they can take it home and plant it and actually see that it grows ... they can see the full cycle," McLain said.
The students may not give much thought to the larger significance of urban forestry, but there's one thing about planting trees they're likely to remember for now.
"It's fun," said Caitlin Mattern, 8. "You get messy," she explained.
D.J. Welch, 8, had his own view of the benefit of planting a tree in his back yard: "You could make tree houses," he said. Welch said he picked the blue spruce seedling because "you can pick up the pine cones" it will someday produce.
Arbor Day, first celebrated in 1872, is officially observed on April 30 in Montana, Lennon said, but towns hold events in April, May and even into June to celebrate it.
The Hometown Trees program will be helping students plant trees in Chester today; at Blue Sky and KG Wednesday; at west Cottonwood School, Havre Christian School, and Davey School on Thursday; at Hilldale Colony and Cottonwood School on Friday; Hartland and East End Hutterite colonies on Monday; and Rocky Boy on May 4.