This year to celebrate Arbor Day, the grounds staff at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., will work with members of that school’s Greek community to plant two new trees on campus on Saturday, April 30.
They’ll celebrate the winning fraternity and sorority in a sustainability contest that encouraged Greek houses to compete to see who could recycle the most.
Puget Sound’s Arbor Day observances are part of what has helped the school maintain its status as a Tree Campus USA school since 2013.
National Arbor Day 2016 is April 29. It’s a day to celebrate the importance of trees in our lives and communities and, in many cases, to plant new ones. Tree Campus USA and Tree City USA are two designations awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation that help guide cities and college campuses through the basic steps of laying a foundation for healthy trees.
To gain this status, a college or university must establish a campus tree advisory committee, maintain and follow a campus tree care plan and a campus tree program with dedicated annual expenditures, hold an annual Arbor Day observance and conduct a related service learning project.
The Arbor Day observance and service learning projects are valuable opportunities at Puget Sound, according to Grounds Supervisor Barrett Tripp and Manager of Grounds Joe Kovolyan.
“We get a lot done in one day, and it helps drive home the whole approach we have here in getting students involved in maintaining the campus and seeing what it takes to keep everything looking the way it looks,” Kovolyan said.
As part of the campus’s overall tree care plan, the grounds department also plays a role in campus construction projects. When heavy construction or underground utility work threatens campus trees, grounds staff go to the site to assess whether the tree could be saved by using a tree protection plan, or whether it should be replaced after the work is complete.
Either way, the focus is on maintaining the tree canopy that forms such an integral part of the Puget Sound campus identity.
Tripp and Kovolyan see in their surroundings every day the importance of consistent work in replacing and maintaining trees year after year.
“Right now we have a very old tree canopy and a very young tree canopy,” Kovolyan said, because for a period of 50-60 years, trees weren’t paid much attention. Those decades of inaction will take decades of action to correct.
“Barrett and I will be retiring by the time it gets back to normal,” he jokes.
Consistent improvement requires a long-term vision, a different way of thinking from other landscape work, like planting annuals every season.
Tripp and Kovolyan said their focus isn’t so much on the volume of trees they plant, but rather on variety, and choosing the right species for the right location. That might mean fewer young trees grace the campus today, but years from now, their hope is that it creates a campus filled with strong specimen trees.
“I think a lot of schools lose that perspective,” Kovolyan said. “We try to think long-term. It’s healthier for the tree, it’s more cost-effective in the long run for tree care and it gives us a different look than a lot of places.”
The trees create a scenic backdrop for the many other plantings that Tripp oversees on the university campus.
One area of note is the Hazleton Northwest Native Species Garden, which was a gift from a 1964 university graduate named Elaine Hazleton Bolton. Located in the courtyard of the school’s science building, the garden serves as a ready reference of plant species native to the Pacific Northwest.
It was the first area of campus Tripp documented on their Plants Map profile he created for the university. He is working on plans to install Plants Map interactive signs and tags to label the plants and allow visitors to learn more by scanning the QR codes they contain.
Tripp found Plants Map on a Web search, and liked the interactivity, which he sees as a way to create new engagement with the plantings on campus. He worked with students to fill out the profile and plant pages.
He has also been documenting the many rhododendron plantings that bring the campus to life with spring blooms.
Puget Sound is a neighborhood campus, and gets regular visits from local residents walking through.
“When we’re out working in the landscape, people from the community will pass by and say, ‘This place looks great, what plant is this?’” Tripp said. That got him thinking about how tagging plants could enable people to create their own self-guided horticultural tour of the campus.
Puget Sound is one of 254 campuses in the United States to achieve Tree Campus USA status with the Arbor Day Foundation, and one of fewer than a dozen in the Pacific Northwest.
Amber Filipi, a program coordinator with the Arbor Day Foundation, said schools interested in pursuing Tree Campus status should start by contacting their state urban forestry coordinator. A list of coordinators in each state can be found here.