- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - People across the nation will observe Arbor Day on Friday, but no state will celebrate with as much fervor as Nebraska, where the celebration of trees got its start 142 years ago.

Like elsewhere, people in Nebraska will plant trees and children will read poetry and join in coloring contests. But unlike in other states, many students will get a day off from school and most public offices will close - it’s the only state in which Arbor Day is a paid holiday for state workers.

“Nebraskans know and are proud of the heritage that Nebraska is the home of Arbor Day,” said Anthony Marek, a spokesman for the Arbor Day Foundation.

If the state embraces the holiday, the epicenter of that devotion is in Nebraska City, which was home to J. Sterling Morton, the newspaper editor and secretary of the Nebraska Territory who first proposed the holiday.

An estimated 1 million trees were planted throughout the state on that first Arbor Day in 1872.

Tim Pendrell, director of the Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce office, said trees are still growing in town that were planted during the initial celebration.

“You can really see what was planted the very first Arbor Day,” he said.

This year, Nebraska City’s celebration will include a parade, chili cook-off, home and garden show, a run, and the opening of the community’s 10 seasonal museums for regular hours, Pendrell said. The parade, held Saturday, has been part of the city’s celebration since 1885.

“I don’t think anybody does it quite as well as we do it, as big as we do it,” he said.

Arbor Day is celebrated throughout the country, though some states observe it at different times of the year when the weather is more appropriate for tree planting. In Louisiana, Arbor Day is the third Friday in January. In Vermont, it’s the first Friday in May.

The holiday typically attracts less attention in other states.

Arbor Day would probably be better known if we all got a day off from work,” said Ben Thompson, an urban and community forestry specialist at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Thompson said some groups combine celebrations of Arbor Day and Earth Day, which was Tuesday.

That’s true in Michigan, too, said Jennifer Hunnell, Arbor Day program coordinator for a conservation district south of Lansing.

“Unfortunately, I think we get a little overshadowed with Earth Day,” she said.

That doesn’t happen in Nebraska.

Teresa Frields, director of assessment and curriculum with Nebraska City Public Schools, said many students will join in the parade and enter a poster contest. Students’ school work also may include tree artwork or memorizing a tree poem, Frields said.

In the southeast Nebraska city of Auburn, students will take part in a tree planting ceremony and participate in a coloring contest, said Denise Eggers, deputy city clerk who organizes Arbor Day activities in the community.

The prize for the contest winners? Usually a book on trees.

Eric Berg, community forestry and sustainable landscapes program leader with the Nebraska Forest Service, said his agency tries to educate children about the importance of trees to everyone, but especially residents of a state like Nebraska where the harsh weather makes them a prized commodity.

“Nebraskans and people of the Great Plains appreciate trees, value trees because it’s a rare commodity that really needs to be taken care of,” said Berg.



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