Volunteers plant 300-plus trees at Edgewood Elementary for new urban-focused Arbor Day

For the 11th year, hundreds of volunteers set out Friday to make another corner of Harford County a little greener on Arbor Day, the day reserved for planting trees.

This year's county-sponsored Arbor Day event focused on the grassy areas around Edgewood Elementary School, a departure from the usual plantings in more rural areas.

"We are looking to expand our urban tree canopy," County Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald told the crowd of a couple of hundred people assembled, with shovels at the ready, before a makeshift stage behind Edgewood Elementary School.

"This is a neat project for us and a little different from past years," Gutwald said.

The county received a $35,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, most of which went toward a community urban tree assessment whose results should be released in about a month, Betsey Greene, county planner and Arbor Day organizer, explained.

As part of the grant, "we are required to do a planting in an underserved community," she said.

The county is working with the University of Vermont's Spatial Laboratory to analyze where the potential is for more urban tree canopy, she said.

"It's a great research study," Greene said. "I am excited. I can't wait."

The boys, girls, parents, counselors and Scout leaders were doing their part in Edgewood by helping plant 128 large species like pin oak, tupelo and fringe trees around the inner edge of the school. Across the street, about 200 Northern red oaks, Eastern redbud trees and American red plum trees were being rooted, Greene said.

Greene noted 263 people had pre-registered, so county officials were expecting about 325 total volunteers – "almost more people than we have trees."

Unlike previous plantings of hundreds upon hundreds of smaller trees, "this time, we are doing more large trees," she explained, and fewer of them.

The effort will add to the county's continued recognition as a Tree City USA. Harford has planted more than 30,00 trees over the years as part of Arbor Day, Gutwald said.

Danny Davis, of the Harford County Forestry Board and the Maryland Urban and Community Forest Committee, presented the county with a Tree City USA plaque and also gave awards to Youth's Benefit and Churchville elementary schools for their contribution to the tree-planting effort.

The crowd was raring to go on a "nice and crisp" March morning, as County Executive David Craig called it.

"It's really good that we are working on the urban tree environment, because we do need to restore that and I really applaud that," Craig told those assembled.

Many of the eager participants were there for the first time.

Donna Freeland, of Abingdon, brought her two children after hearing of the event through their church, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Bel Air.

"I like planting trees and there can be fresh oxygen in the air," observed 8-year-old Ava Freeland as she helped make a deep hole for a pin oak tree.

Her brother, 9-year-old Jacob, was very enthusiastic about digging the hole. "I like shovels," he explained.

Donna Freeland agreed with their enthusiasm.

"It's a nice community service and we like the children to get involved in the community," she said. "We are very excited about it and we are having a great time. I think everybody should try it."

She noted it was a good learning opportunity for kids.

"They are going to learn how to dig and plant," she said.

Nicoll and Nick Christ, of Baldwin, were working on another pin oak along with Alex and Zach, who Nicoll said were in fifth grade and kindergarten, respectively.

The boys attend Youth's Benefit Elementary in Fallston and are trying to complete the Patriot Program, Nicoll Christ said.

"I think it's wonderful," she said of the Arbor Day event, adding they thought it would be great to volunteer and her kids like "digging and getting dirty."

A group of teenagers from the Havre de Grace Boys and Girls Club also seemed to like the idea of the project.

Alana Scott, 17, of Havre de Grace, said it was a great experience.

"They are going to be here forever," she pointed out about the trees.

Nick White, 16, of Aberdeen, also understood the bigger mission.

"We are saving the planet here," he said.

Their coordinator, Justin Neville, said the group thought it made sense to spend their morning on the grounds of Edgewood Elementary.

"You can never have too many trees," he said.

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