By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Throwing shovels of mulch, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, city officials and volunteer “tree tenders” dedicated the planting of an American white oak at Painter Park’s main entrance during West Haven’s Arbor Day observance June 23.
The event, organized by Tree Warden Leo Kelly, was the first of many tree plantings planned for parts of the city under the auspices of Kelly and his tree tenders.
The group of volunteers — about 30 in all — is tasked with helping the city implement a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to plant and maintain trees in urban areas of West Haven.
Kelly said many city trees have been lost because of storms and utility projects and have not been replaced or replenished. The tree tender initiative hopes to change that, he said.
Rossi marked the annual tree-planting ceremony, held at the park’s Kelsey Avenue entrance, by reading a mayoral proclamation declaring Arbor Day in West Haven.
Reading the proclamation, Rossi said the white oak, one of the preeminent hardwood trees native to eastern and central North America, “is a long-lived oak whose name comes from the color of the finished wood. It can reach a magnificent height and can develop into a massive broad-topped tree with large branches striking out at wide angles.”
The tree was recommended by Kelly and paid for by the city.
“The spirit of Arbor Day remains strong and underscores the importance of planting trees to provide us with clean air and water, habitat for wildlife and endless natural beauty — all for a better future,” Rossi said.
At the tree planting, Rossi and Kelly were joined by Republican Councilwoman-at-Large Colleen O’Connor, Parks and Recreation Director Mark E. Paine Jr., and tree tenders Dawn Evans, Jeanne Lisosky, Marie Oberempt, Jenny Reed-Haggans and Claire Zoghb.
The ceremony also recognized West Haven’s recent designation as a Tree City USA community for its commitment to urban forestry.
For a sixth time, the city earned the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City distinction by meeting the program’s four requirements: forming a tree board or department, creating a tree care ordinance, having an annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita, and holding an Arbor Day observance.
The Tree City program, established in 1976, is sponsored by the Lincoln, Nebraska-based foundation in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.
Rossi has been working with Kelly and the Tree Commission to improve West Haven’s tree inventory process and implement a sustainable and safe treescape.
“Leo Kelly is a tremendous resource for the Department of Public Works and the city,” Paine said. “And it’s not just because he’s a good steward of parks and trees, he engages the public and makes them a part of the process.”
Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by Julius Sterling Morton in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
By the 1920s, each state had enacted public laws mandating an Arbor Day observance. The customary observance is to plant a tree.
On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, more than 1 million trees were planted.