Arbor Day in Pandemic Times

By Molly O’Liddy, VDOF Community Forestry Partnership Coordinator

Despite these uncertain times, communities across the Commonwealth have continued to celebrate their love of trees in Arbor Day celebrations. In Virginia, Arbor Day is annually recognized as the last Friday in April. Traditionally, cities and towns have held parades, concerts and festivals that bring the whole community together. During the first Arbor Day, held in Nebraska in 1872, one million trees were planted in a single day!

This year’s official Arbor Day in Virginia was April 30. Because of COVID-19, many celebrations moved to a virtual space: pre-recorded or private plantings with limited numbers of people in attendance. Read on to learn how some of Virginia’s “Tree Cities” celebrated Arbor Day during the pandemic.

Harrisonburg’s Planting and Creek Clean-up

The City of Harrisonburg celebrated Arbor Day by planting 50 trees along the North End Greenway. This planting was in conjunction with the annual Blacks Run Clean-up Day, which celebrated its 23rd year. Volunteer groups were smaller and the Parks department had a unique system to handle volunteer sign up by drive-through. Despite virtual classes, James Madison University students were able to participate in the event to give back to the community. The North End Greenway opened in 2019 and due to the pandemic, this is the first Arbor Day celebration to honor the nine years of community effort to finish the project. 

Volunteers planting along the greenway (photo credit: Harrisonburg Parks & Recreation)

A Two-Part Celebration for Suffolk

The City of Suffolk decided to break its celebration into two parts, to be enjoyed virtually. One day, a tree was planted by the mayor, park staff, and City Council members while an Arbor Day proclamation was read. The following day, the city’s outdoor recreation specialist took a canoe trip with a volunteer ‘tree enthusiast’ to discuss tree species along the banks of a lake. Both of these events were recorded and then spliced together to make one event. The entire two-part event was broadcast on various media channels on Virginia’s Arbor Day.

A “Traipse” Through Staunton

Through a grant from the Blue Ridge Community Foundation, the Staunton Parks and Recreation Department partnered with the application platform Traipse to create a scavenger hunt and tree tour for Arbor Day. Participants in the “Great Gypsy Hill Tree Traipse” tour undertake a mission to unlock challenges that can only be answered by finding something specifically near the identified tree’s location. Gypsy Hill Park is a historical staple for the town’s trees, celebrating its first Arbor Day in 1889. The tour creatively takes participants on a journey through history while providing connection between trees of the past and present.

Connecting Trees and Reading in Waynesboro  

The Waynesboro Department of Parks and Recreation hosted its Arbor Day Celebration on April 19, 2021 with children from the local YMCA daycare program. They started with a story hike, reading The Lumberjack’s Beard while taking a short hike down the South River Greenway. This book is about a lumberjack who faces the creatures living in a forest after he cuts down all the trees. Seventeen panels were placed along the greenway, each with a page of the book. Once the group completed reading the book along the hike, they planted an ‘October Glory’ red maple in a grassy, open area along the greenway. This species will be a great shade tree, and is suitable to grow along the river. While planting the tree, the group saw and learned how to properly plant and care for trees. The city also posted a short video explaining how to plant a tree.

No matter how, or when, you celebrate Arbor Day, the most important thing to recognize is the way trees bring us together – whether that’s shoulder to shoulder, or six feet apart.

Featured image: Planting along the greenway beside Black’s Run (photo credit: Harrisonburg Parks & Recreation)

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