BY KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
Although Arbor Week has come to pass in Alabama, the efforts of Keep Opelika Beautiful and its volunteers will continue year round.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a proclamation last month declaring the week of Feb. 19 through 25, 2023, as Arbor Week in the state. National Arbor Day is observed each year on the last Friday in April, but Alabama’s Arbor Day was observed on Feb. 25 this year.
Arbor Day and Week shine a spotlight on trees, with extra efforts to educate the community about their importance — and to plant a few, of course.
“It was really fun,” said Priscilla Blythe, executive director of Keep Opelika Beautiful (KOB). “We did on Tuesday a planting and demonstration at Bandy Park … with the students at Opelika Learning Center. The middle school came out and helped plant — learned to plant three trees — so we involved the students for sure that way.”
George Barker, the city arborist, led the planting lesson for the students on Tuesday, according to Blythe. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller also attended the event and spoke to the students.
The week culminated in an Arbor Day tree and seedling giveaway Saturday morning at Bandy Park. Gray skies and rain were not enough to keep citizens from showing up to pick out a free plant.
“We ended up giving away all of them,” Blythe said. “We had 30 three-gallon trees and 200 seedlings.”
Blythe said Barker also planted two more trees that day as a demonstration to the citizens, just as he had for the students earlier in the week. The Saturday event was sponsored by the Alabama Department of Agriculture, Land and Trees Unlimited, the Alabama Urban Forestry Association, International Paper Company and the city of Hoover.
These efforts and more have earned Opelika a “Tree City USA” designation for 35 years — a long-running feat that few cities in Alabama have achieved.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, communities must meet four overarching standards to earn this distinction: maintain a tree board or department, have a community tree ordinance, celebrate Arbor Day and spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry. Each of those standards comes with its own further criteria that must be met to become a Tree City.
Blythe said part of that includes seeing more trees planted across the community than cut down each year. This past year, she said more than 200 trees were planted. Trees may oftentimes be cut down for safety reasons. The goal is also to spread out the planting of trees so that no part of the community is neglected.
“That’s another thing you have to do for Tree City is you have to, each year, include more in your mapping and map what’s in the city,” Blythe explained. “… They were focusing more on the downtown and planting this year, replacing some of the dogwoods that had to come down that were older for our Azalea and Dogwood Trail.”
The Azalea and Dogwood Trail is slated to start up this month. KOB coordinates the trail each year for citizens and visitors to enjoy as the cold, wintry weather is traded for springtime warmth and blossoms. According to the KOB website, the five-mile trail starts and ends at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 8th Street with green arrows directing participants along the way. For a full list of directions, visit www.keepopelikabeautiful.com/azalea-dogwood-trail.
On April 1, KOB will also host its semiannual Shred Day. Residents of Lee County are invited to bring their old documents in need of shredding to the old fire station, located at 600 8th Ave., anytime between 8 and 11 a.m. Shred Day is a drive-thru event. Columbus, Georgia-based River Mill Data Management is partnering with KOB to offer shredding services.
Finally, KOB will host Garden in the Park Saturday, May 6, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Municipal Park. The event includes art and food vendors, live entertainment, children’s crafts and rides on the Rocky Brook Rocket. Dog owners are encouraged to leave their pets at home for this event.
Garden in the Park began in 2005 as a fundraiser “for a little red caboose,” according to the KOB website. The event continues to serve as a fundraiser, with funds being used to support community projects like landscaping vacant lots, adding trashcans to downtown, putting trees at Courthouse Square, greenspace enhancements at schools and more.
Anyone with questions can reach out to Blythe at 334-749-4970 or email@example.com.
Overall, Blythe said she hopes the efforts of KOB will encourage citizens to be more proactive in their environmental efforts, but also to simply enjoy nature.
“I think we all need to get out more, and maybe if you’re planting trees, and then you watch it grow, it’s a learning experience for children — and for adults,” she said.
To learn more about Keep Opelika Beautiful, visit www.keepopelikabeautiful.com.