'Who doesn't love a tree?'

Volunteers mark Arbor Day in Harford Co., planting 900 seedlings

April 11, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

In the spring, a young girl's fancy turns to - well, helping preserve the environment.

That was the case for 9-year-old Bethany Ingram, anyway, as she took a break Friday from her task of digging a hole in a bit of soggy turf in Edgeley Grove Park in Fallston.

The fourth-grader, nature enthusiast and member of Girl Scout Troop 883 in Bel Air was getting ready to plant the 2-foot seedling of a red maple tree, one of about 1,000 trees put in the ground by volunteers on an unexpectedly sunny morning as part of Harford County's seventh annual Arbor Day Celebration and Conservation Project.

"We have to take care of the environment," said Bethany, a pink baseball cap shoved back on her head. "We want it to be around for a long, long time."

That was the goal of the more than 300 people who gathered at the bottom of a hillside in the rolling, 280-acre Harford County park. Led by representatives from county government and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the volunteer horde - Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, honor students, at-risk teens, Cub Scouts, parents, siblings, teachers and more - planted 900 seedlings 12 feet apart, in two parallel lines, along Winters Run creek and an intersecting tributary.

Those were in addition to about 100 more mature trees the county had planted along the nearby Ma and Pa Trail.

"It's a lot to get done in less than three hours," said Frann Geraghty, a volunteer taking part for the third straight year.

Most of the trees will create a buffer between the hillside and the creek, said Betsey Greene, a forestry expert with Harford County Public Works who helped organize the event. That is necessary because the hillside is part of an active farm that is part of the park.

Each spring when the farmer plants, and every fall when he harvests, sediment threatens to slide down the hill toward the water, Greene said, a situation that would eventually overwhelm the creek and swallow it up.

"The tree roots will spread to 25 feet in circumference," she said, "and that will suck down water, using up the moisture before it runs down the hill. It will preserve the integrity of this setting."

As leaders and volunteers explained, that is one of the many benefits of trees. They add beauty, cool the air and the land, provide leafy shade and create food and habitat for animals. They also create oxygen, said Geraghty, a kindergarten teacher at Forest Hill Elementary School.

"It takes, I think, nine trees to supply a lifetime's worth of oxygen for one person," she said, though she wasn't sure of her figures.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says an acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and emits four tons of oxygen - enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

You don't have to be a modern "greenie" to be well-versed on the subject. An early tree advocate was J. Sterling Morton, a 19th-century journalist and naturalist who persuaded the Nebraska legislature to sponsor the first Arbor Day. On April 10, 1872, Nebraskans planted about a million trees, and by the middle 1880s, most of America was celebrating Arbor Day on the last Friday in April. (Harford County schedules its celebration to coincide with Good Friday, a school holiday.)

On Friday, the 137th anniversary of Morton's brainchild, the National Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska again recognized Harford County as a "Tree City USA" - a municipality that spends at least $2 per citizen on tree initiatives while meeting a few other criteria. (Harford County, population 233,000, spent more than $920,000 this fiscal year.)

More than that, it gave aspiring Sterling Mortons a chance to get outside and take part in a project with no apparent downside.

Bethany and her friends Maggie Roszko, 9, and Rebecca Hudson, 10, were getting credit toward their Girl Scout Bronze Awards. Justin Jones, 19, of Aberdeen, and Joshua Ray, 17, of Baltimore, cadets from the Freestate Challenge Academy, a residential school for at-risk youth, were also getting community-service credit.

But some benefits were harder to quantify. Judy Schaeffer of Whiteford, a gardener by avocation, took a moment from her digging to look at the rows of new young seedlings.

"They'll grow up before you know it," she said. "It's beautiful. Who doesn't love a tree?"

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