- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - More than 100 elm trees used to dot the side of Memorial Highway in west Mount Vernon, planted there to honor those from Skagit County who fought - and those who died - in World War I.

As the town grew, most of the trees were removed, with only a handful of the original elms remaining.

Now a local high school student and the Skagit County Master Gardeners hope to prod local businesses to plant elms again, driving home the point of who Memorial Highway is intended to honor.

Master Gardener Al Call, an Army veteran, said 180 elm trees were shipped to Skagit County in 1931 by rail car at the price of $3 apiece. They were planted along newly named Memorial Highway, most east of Avon-Allen Road. He said the trees were meant as a reminder of World War I, the far-raging conflict in which 977 Skagit County men fought and 50 died.

“The elms grew. They flourished,” he said.

But so did the town around them. As Mount Vernon grew in the 1950s, the state cut most of the trees down. Only three remain: two in front of the Net Drive-In and one south of Avon-Allen.

“We didn’t even realize it was an elm until we had a tree expert examine it,” Call said.

He said the local Master Gardeners started a push to plant elms again several years ago. While planting 180 elms wouldn’t be feasible, he said, the group hopes to get 50 planted to honor Skagit County’s soldiers who died in World War I.

Some progress has been made. In 2015, the Master Gardeners planted five elms along Memorial Highway near the Discovery Garden at the Washington State University extension office. The trees were furnished by Jim Barborinas at Urban Forestry Services, and are Jersey elms, known to be a hardier variety resistant to Dutch elm disease.

Between the trees remaining and those newly planted, there are 48 more to go. To get them planted, the Master Gardeners have a partner in Emma Sundance, a junior at Mount Vernon High School.

Sundance’s father, Rich, is commander with the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit of Skagit Valley.

“I went to a memorial service when I was 12 or 13 and became captured by the experience that no one knows why Memorial Highway is called Memorial Highway. I think it’d be a great idea to put those elm trees back to honor the veterans,” Sundance said.

She said the project will be her culminating project for her senior year and her Gold Award for Girl Scouts. It’s not as simple as planting the trees, though; local businesses will need to allow the plantings and agree to maintain the trees.

Sundance said she’s been contact with a few businesses that have expressed interest. She hopes to contact more.

“I plan to contact businesses,” Sundance said. “I’d like to plant those trees again and bring back those memories. I’d like to put (memorial) plaques by each tree.”

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Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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