Turning over a new leaf

Secaucus celebrates Arbor Day

Secaucus students sing for the trees on Arbor Day.
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Secaucus students sing for the trees on Arbor Day.

The old saying that April showers bring May flowers may have seemed a bit premature when students from the Secaucus public schools gathered in the playground at Huber Street on April 30 for the annual celebration of Arbor Day.

With poems, prayers, and songs, Secaucus residents celebrated the national day for the planting of trees. While the students sang the virtues of preserving the environment, a light drizzle fell on the trees waiting to be planted.

Each year, the ceremony is held at a different location. Students from all four local public schools get involved, not only to perform, but also to plant tree seedlings. The Department of Public Works plants larger trees from the New Jersey Tree Foundation.

The remnants of a heavy rain the night before lingered on the limbs of trees waiting to be planted. The chorus of kids who gave a variety of performances were bundled up as if it were still early March, but they were unfazed as they took their places on the makeshift stage.

While the Huber Street School Second Grade Chorus sang, first graders echoed the lyrics in sign language. There were also performances by Clarendon students and the Secaucus High School Student chorus.

A town for trees

Standing in front of a number of trees that were scheduled to be planted in various parts of town, Mayor Michael Gonnelli announced that Secaucus had been named a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the 26th consecutive year.

To become a Tree City USA, a community must meet four standards: have a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, a comprehensive community forestry program, and an Arbor Day observance. This year the town will again receive a Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating progress in its community forestry program.

Tree City USA began as a 1976 bicentennial project cosponsored by the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA-Forest Service. The National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are now cosponsors as well.

Instrumental in setting up the tree planting program was the Secaucus Shade Tree Committee, established in March 1992 in an effort to protect curbside trees, which were being cut down at an alarming rate. In August 1993, an ordinance was passed by the mayor and council giving the city responsibility for the town’s curbside trees.

“Our trees are a major contributor to the beauty and quality of life in Secaucus,”  reads the town’s website. “The Secaucus Shade Tree Committee is dedicated to maintaining and enhancing the trees through proper care, protection, replanting and educational programs.”

Deep roots

Gonnelli said many of these actions were taken under the auspices of former Mayor Anthony Just in the early 1990s. Gonnelli, then administrator of the Shade Tree Advisory Committee, was instrumental in the designation.

“We’re not stopping,” Gonnelli said. “We’ve budgeted $75,000 for the planting of trees this year and have raised another $10,000 in donations.”

These contributions came from concerned individuals and businesses who were eager to help increase the public tree canopy in Secaucus. This is part of the town’s Arbor Day Tree Appreciation fundraising campaign.

One of the trees being planted near the school would be in honor of Fred Ponti, a former principal and teacher in the district.

“When we plant a tree, it’s not just for today, but for tomorrow,” Gonnelli said. “This is about the future.”

The ceremony included a recitation of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.” Kilmer was a New Jersey native and is honored by a society established in his name in Mahwah.

Lynn Krammer read the town’s Arbor Day proclamation, after which Robert Valente, principal of Huber Street School, gave a brief history of Arbor Day.

The holiday was first observed in Nebraska on Jan. 4, 1872, when the state board of agriculture adopted a resolution providing for a day of tree planting. Nebraska’s first Arbor Day resulted in the planting of more than one million trees. New Jersey has been celebrating Arbor Day since 1949, with the last Friday in April set aside by law to encourage the planting of trees.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com