published Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Arbor Day spreads green message

by Kelli Gauthier
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press A landscape display of the Peace Grove shows future plans for planting and development at Coolidge Park. An Arbor Day ceremony held at the Walker Pavilion on Friday celebrated Chattanooga's 20th year as a Tree City USA community.

The sun shone on an arguably lesser-known holiday Friday, as Chattanooga pulled out all the stops for an Arbor Day trifecta.

Thanks to efforts from the Chattanooga Tree Commission, the Scenic City was named Tree Board of the Year by the National Arbor Day Foundation and earned the privilege of hosting the state's Arbor Day celebration.

The celebration coincided with a $200,000 initiative from Volkswagen Group of America to plant trees all over the city for three weekends, beginning today.

The event also kicked off an effort by Chris Clark, owner of Steve Clark and Associates, a Nashville-based land management company, to donate 100,000 trees to Tennessee's 95 counties.

Still, Chattanooga's City Forester Gene Hyde said no amount of tree awareness is ever enough.

"Being a forester and a tree hugger, I'd like (Arbor Day) to get even more attention, but this is a good start," he said.

When Volkswagen began construction on its Chattanooga auto assembly plant in mid-2008, tearing down some trees was inevitable, said Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations.

To make up for the small-scale deforestation while living up to their reputation as an environmentally conscious company, VW officials, with the help of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, decided to plant trees in Highland, Jefferson and Renaissance parks.

"We want to help improve the green trees of the Scenic City," Mr. Fischer said during Friday's ceremony in the pavilion at Coolidge Park.

Mr. Clark also is on a mission to green up the state. Trees are his passion, not just his livelihood.

So it's somewhat understandable that the 37-year-old -- now blessed and charged with the 35-year-old urban forestry, landscape architectural and land management company that his father started -- would be giving away 100,000 trees in Tennessee.

"I wanted to do something big to honor my father. And I just picked the number (100,000 trees) out of the air," Mr. Clark said.

Counties and cities and people across Tennessee have been quick to take the Nashville businessman up on the offer.

Chattanooga ordered 800 trees that will be delivered in a few weeks. Officials in Bradley, Coffee, Grundy, McMinn and Sequatchie counties ordered 1,000 trees for each of their counties. Franklin County will get 900 trees.

Altogether, 78 percent of Tennessee's 95 counties took Mr. Clark up on his offer. All the recipients have to do is plant and maintain them.

Mr. Clark's effort and donation helps the state, as well. Tennessee's Department of Agriculture has a tree nursery that, in these tough economic times, was not selling as many trees as usual, so Mr. Clark bought all of the nursery's trees.

After the inside celebration at Coolidge Park on Friday, elected officials, forestry types and representatives from several of Chattanooga's sister cities around the world -- such as Hamm, Germany, and Wuxi, China -- made their way outside to watch a handful of participants plant an American elm tree.

The American elm was planted in the same spot where officials in 2006 were forced to remove a damaged, massive 100-year-old slippery elm.

"It's an elm replacing an elm. It's pretty cool," Mr. Hyde said.

In addition to the main Arbor Day event, various schools and groups branched out across the city to join in the green celebration.


* The National Arbor Day Foundation plants and distributes more than 10 million trees each year.

* Tennessee was one of the first states to recognize Arbor Day in 1889.

* Forests cover 53 percent of the land in Tennessee.

Sources:, Tennessee Forestry Department

Sixth-grade students at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy hosted a bilingual news conference to kick off their Branching Out initiative, a student-led program designed to challenge other sixth-grade students around the world to plant a native tree.

Students planned to send out 500 postcards on Friday to schools nationally and internationally and mount a multimedia awareness campaign to explain the project and challenge sixth-grade peers to participate.

Tennessee's Urban Forestry Coordinator Bruce Webster called on Tennesseans to keep the message of Arbor Day rooted in their minds year round.

"It takes all of us to plant the trees, to improve the environment," he said. "(The trees) we enjoy today were planted by our parents and grandparents. We must remember to plant for our children and grandchildren."

Staff writer Pam Sohn contributed to this story.

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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