But in more recent years, the heads of naysayers have begun to turn. Granted, some are accepting the inevitable consequences of unrestrained waste, uncontrolled pollution and ill-considered clearing more slowly than others, but in this case a little shift is better than none at all.
In Cleveland, leaders are taking it seriously as evidenced by Mayor Tom Rowland’s recent announcement that our hometown has been designated by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA for the 21st consecutive year. Such recognition should not be sold short by any who would question the value of a tree.
Serving as a Tree City USA, and doing it for more than two decades, comes with purpose and it is awarded through commitment. It’s far more than a fancy proclamation on sheepskin with a pretty seal, a colorful flag and bragging rights for all to hear and see. It’s dedication.
A municipality that will be considered for Tree City USA distinction must meet four core standards that require a combination of volunteers, legal commitment, monetary backing and community involvement. Specifically, the standards, as set forth by the Arbor Day Foundation, include:
1. Staff a Tree Board or equivalent department (this is satisfied locally by the Cleveland Shade Tree Board whose members are volunteers as selected by the Cleveland City Council);
2. Implement a Tree Care Ordinance (such an ordinance was written, debated and approved locally 21 years ago; it didn’t make everyone happy at the time, but its intent was both relevant and forward-thinking);
3. Fund a Community Forestry Program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita (our city satisfies this requirement partially with the creation and budgeting of the urban forester position, capably staffed by Dan Hartman); and
4. Host an Arbor Day observance and proclamation (this year’s ceremony is scheduled for Friday at the site of the recent Big Tree Contest winner).
Not every community will qualify as a Tree City USA. Not all that apply will be approved. Such recognition requires “... commitment to effective urban forest management.” The phrase sounds complicated, almost too scientific, but at the heart it means this: A Tree City USA community is one that treasures the value of its towering vegetation, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a commitment to the future and our environment.
In many respects, Tree City USA designation falls right in line with Monday’s worldwide observance of Earth Day. Both are far-reaching. Each sees the beauty of pure air and clean water. And one is a partner to the other in assuring that — with a little help from mankind — we’ll have an unlimited supply of tomorrows.
Regardless of any words we select to savor the beauty — both in majesty and in preservation of life — of a Cleveland or a Bradley County filled with trees, those most remembered are credited to poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer who wrote, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree; A tree whose hungry mouth is prest, Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast.”
The poet showed his lighter side by not taking himself too seriously and by giving credit where credit is most due, “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”
Ours is not a voice of spiritual salvation. Nor are we the final word in all that pleases the mind and comforts the heart. We accept the truth behind the homespun adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
As such, we count ourselves among a world of beholders.
And the beauty we behold is the giant green tower that kisses the clouds with an intimacy born from love and gifted by creation.
Tree City USA is more than just a title. It is a way of life. And for that, we remain eternally grateful.