published Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

UTC honored with 'Tree Campus USA' distinction for urban forestry

A student walks across the tree-lined UTC campus.
A student walks across the tree-lined UTC campus.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

The University of Tennessee in Knoxville may be the state's flagship educational institution, but it's UTC that's setting the precedent among Tennessee's public four-year schools in tree culture.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga recently rejoined Cleveland State Community College and Bryan College as the only "Tree Campus USA" schools in the state. The Arbor Day Foundation hands out the award each year to about 200 universities across the nation that exhibit exemplary practices in promoting healthy trees.

A campus lush with leafy timber is an attractive campus, which helps in recruiting students and allows UTC to be a desirable neighbor to downtown Chattanooga.

And for university officials it's an affirmation of more than a decade of work stemming from a landscape master plan completed two years ago that called for the beautification of the campus and cultivation of a tree-friendly culture.

"I think it's great that we can hang our hat on something like this honor," said Deborah Arfken, director of university planning at UTC.

But mostly, she said, it's nice to enjoy a campus each day that is maximizing its ecosystem despite its landlocked, urban location. UTC is lush with more than 2,000 trees.

"Students, when they're here, and prospective students say the same thing -- they say it's a really beautiful campus," Arfken said. "It has a lot to do with the quality of life and the pleasure of just being on campus."

This is not the first time UTC has been recognized for its efforts to bolster campus forestry. Tennessee's Urban Forestry Council named it an urban arboretum in 2011 for its more than 2,000 different plant species. Locally, the Chattanooga Tree Commission awarded UTC its School Grounds Award in 2012, and UTC also was a Tree Campus USA school in 2011.

In Georgia, landmark institutions including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech are also Tree Campus USA schools. But UTC is the only four-year public university in the Volunteer State to receive the honor since the Arbor Day Foundation began awarding it in 2008.

To earn the Tree Campus designation, UTC met the five-core standards for effective campus forest management: a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and a student service-learning project.

Before UTC officials paid special attention to the tree culture, Arfken said, workers would plant trees without plans for how to develop them, or alternatively they would plant insignificant twig-like shrubs.

Those days are over, and it's a precedent that Tree Campus USA program manager Mary Sweeney hopes other universities in Tennessee will follow.

"We always look for campuses like that [UTC] to be models of best practices for other campuses in the state," Sweeney said. "We're always excited when well-known schools are involved."

Arfken said efforts to develop UTC's urban forest will continue.

"We wouldn't ignore it," she said, "not after all the time and money that has been spent."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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