Keeping Gresham green
In about 15 years, travelers along Powell Boulevard will see a swath of pink bursting above the tree canopy as they pass by downtown Gresham. Those who stop to investigate will discover beautifully flowering Akebono Cherry trees surrounding a new plaza dedicated to the city's international friends. Although tree lovers in Gresham are excited at what the future holds, it is the current work by volunteers that makes it all possible.
"We take trees for granted, but we wouldn't be where we are without them," said Jim Card, park coordinator for Tsuru Island, Gresham's Japanese Garden attraction.
Gresham celebrates Arbor Day, a national holiday encouraging tree planting on Friday, April 27, by honoring its green space throughout the month.
That kind of focus is what led the National Arbor Day Foundation to designate Gresham as a Tree City USA for 10 years running. To be recognized, a city must maintain a tree board or department, have a community tree ordinance, spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, and officially celebrate Arbor Day. By checking all of those boxes, Gresham has continued to foster greenery. As an additional celebration this year, the city is organizing 10 planting events at community parks.
"Being a Tree City USA helps Gresham keep trees at the forefront," said Tina Osterink, Gresham's natural resources planner.
The efforts from Gresham helps push back against the worldwide loss of trees. While there are about six trillion trees on the planet, about 15 billion are lost each year.
"Trees add to the livability of the community," Osterink said. "It's not just beauty, there are environmental services and health benefits."
The city's "Arbor Month" was kicked off Thursday morning, April 5, with the cherry tree planting at Main City Park, 219 S. Main Ave. Despite dreary weather, city leaders, volunteers and tree lovers visited the new Ebetsu Plaza to put in place the Akebono Cherry trees donated by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
"No matter what the weather is doing, it's always a good day to plant some trees," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis.
Cherry trees have a long history in the United States. In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gifted 3,000 to Washington D.C. Seeds from those original trees eventually started the Akebono species, referred to in Japan as "American" cherry trees.
In Gresham, the first cherry tree at the plaza was planted last fall to celebrate a visit from Gresham's sister city, Ebetsu, Japan. Mayor Bemis was joined by Ebetsu's Mayor Noboru Miyoshi to officially break ground.
Now there are a total of 12 trees in place around the plaza.
"I urge all residents of Gresham to recognize this month by planting trees of their own," Bemis said.
More work was done on a blustery Saturday morning as volunteers joined members of Gresham's Urban Forestry Subcommittee at Gradin Community Sports Park, 2303 S.E. Palmquist Road, for the second Arbor Month event.
The group planted 15 fall trees at the arboretum. The new trees, which will likely reach their visual peak in the fall, bring the total number to just under 300 trees — inching closer to the city's goal of having 330 trees at Gradin.
A wide range of residents have lent a hand at the events, showing the focus the community places on the environment.
At Ebetsu Plaza special needs students from Gresham High School, who spend two days a week volunteering with Tsuru Island, were on hand to celebrate. They had been busy for months caring for the cherry trees leading up to the planting, so all were excited to finally get them in the ground.
Not to be outdone, science students form Barlow High School screwed on their green thumbs at Gradin, working in the dirt and learning the best ways to ensure the trees would thrive at their new home.
"It's important to create a culture of stewardship and pride," Osterink said. "We want to keep Gresham green."