By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
Port Orange celebrated Arbor Day on Sunday, April 28, with a ceremony and concert at the Kenneth W. Parker Amphitheater at the City Center.
While most people have heard of Arbor Day and may be aware Port Orange celebrates this national holiday each year, fewer people have heard of Tree City USA and the fact Port Orange recently received its 30th consecutive Tree City USA award from the National Arbor Day Foundation.
There are 165 Tree Cities in Florida, but Port Orange is one of 13 communities that have earned the award for 30 or more consecutive years. When it comes to Volusia County, Port Orange stands out as the leader even over Daytona Beach, which holds 23 Tree City USA awards. The Volusia County city that comes closest to Port Orange is Deland with 25 awards.
Earlier this year, upon receiving confirmation that Port Orange would receive its 30th consecutive award, Mayor Allen Green stated, "The award showcases the community's commitment to staying the course."
"This award sets Port Orange apart," Special Assistant to the City Manager Kent Donahue said. "We have been a leader in so many areas, but this is one of the areas that we have really taken pride in."
The National Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit conservation and education organization whose mission is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. The foundation has grown to become the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees, with more than 1 million members, supporters and partners.
The mission of Port Orange has been in line with that of the foundation since 1984 when Jim Fisher was mayor. Mr. Fisher initiated the city's first Arbor Day celebration and the following year he got the city involved in its first Tree City USA program. The former mayor's commitment to caring for and managing public trees went a long way in helping to develop the City Center from a barren landscape into a beautiful location highlighted with a variety of trees, which provide a unique canopy design. Mr. Fisher's initiatives also sparked a majority of the growth that transformed Port Orange from a small mobile home community into the modern and contemporary form that we see today.
Arbor Day originated in Nebraska City, Neb., but since then it has become a global event in which the customary observance is to plant a tree. While Arbor Day is a great occasion to think about tree planting, it is also great time to get more committed to year-round conservation and become involved in programs and organizations like Tree City USA.
But just how difficult is it to become a Tree City USA member? To qualify for Tree City USA recognition, a town or city must meet four standards established by the foundation and the National Association of State Foresters. It must have a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, an Arbor Day observance and proclamation, and a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita. These standards were established by the foundation to ensure every qualifying community would have a viable tree management plan and program and so no community would be excluded because of size.
The City of Ormond Beach is smaller in population than Port Orange yet is another long-standing member of Tree City USA with 22 total awards.
"Tree care is a team effort that involves multiple divisions," Ormond Beach Facility Maintenance Manager and Tree City USA coordinator Steve Stershic said. "The citizens appreciate the fact that we are not just trimming and taking trees down as a part of regular city maintenance but replacing them with new trees as well under this program."
There are numerous benefits of becoming a Tree City USA member which positively impact the participating community. Some of these benefits include providing education within the community about the value of tree resources and the importance of tree management, engaging residents to better care for new and existing trees on private property, generating a positive public image and showing the community cares about its environment. All these factors play a big part when it comes to influencing the way visitors and prospective residents view and think about a city or community.
The City of DeBary is known as a progressive community with environmentally sensitive areas, including an extensive park system with thousands of oak trees and even a bird sanctuary. Yet, it is not a participant in Tree Town USA. With all the noted benefits and lack of any size restrictions why aren't DeBary and more communities like it a part of Tree Town USA? Money and personnel issues, according to DeBary City Manager Dan Parrott.
"I am aware of the Tree City USA program, but we have a unique city government here where most of our responsibilities and activities are contracted out to private entities," Mr. Parrott said. "We just don't have the city budget or staffing level to officially be a part of this program. We have, however, adopted a lot of standards and ordinances, which includes having tree standards and a tree replacement fund. We also encourage the planting of Florida friendly plants and shrubs within our community."
Edgewater City Manager Tracey Barlow said budget constraints and lack of staffing are the same factors that are preventing his city from participating.
"Due to the economy, we are focusing on our core programs right now, but as resources become available we are open to something like the Tree City USA program," Mr. Barlow said.
As for Port Orange, it will continue to stay the course. According to Mr. Donahue, recent citizen survey results have come back with numerous compliments testifying to the fact Port Orange residents take pride in the dedication the city has for tree management and the recognition that comes from receiving a 30th consecutive Tree City USA award.
"Being a part of the Tree City USA program has added a great deal to our community and neighborhoods," Mr. Donahue said. "Even though the people on our city council have changed over the years, the vision that was started continues and will not change."