Thursday, June 30, 2022

Love of trees takes root

| May 8, 2022 12:00 AM

Oh to be a third-grader again, and especially one on a glorious spring morning for Arbor Day.

Kalispell Parks and Recreation pulled out all the stops for the 150-year anniversary of the tree-dedicated day in the United States. In introductory remarks, Greg Poncin of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the first American Arbor Day took place in the Midwest where “they don’t have trees.” He went on to tell the hundreds of students and their teachers encircling him at Woodland Park, “We are so lucky to live in a place with trees. We have lots of trees!” He added, “We should not take them for granted.”

Now, thanks to shovel-wielding kids — with some assistance from Smokey the Bear — Kalispell has a few more trees in the park, and an additional couple dozen in surrounding neighborhoods. The first of these was an Ohio buckeye, which the crowd voted to name “Otis.”

After planting Otis, the students trooped in groups to more than a dozen stations around the park, staffed by representatives ranging from the Center for Native Plants to ImagineIF Libraries, and the Invasive Species Action Network to Big Sky Watershed.

The Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center brought four owls, ones deemed nonreleasable back to natural habitat for their injuries. Last year the all-volunteer wildlife rehabilitation organization rescued 112 birds.

At the Flathead Electric Cooperative stop Chad Bessette worked “the zap board” that illustrated such hazards as overloaded circuits indoors and, as can happen when a tree falls, a downed line outdoors. “You don’t want to touch it,” he told an attentive audience. “Not even a little bit.”

On the other hand, Bessette’s colleague, Celesta Collacchi, had plenty that kids could touch as she showed the difference between spruce and fir trees, encouraging her audience to feel whether the needles of the sample branches were square (spruce) or flat (fir). She also taught students how to gauge the age of a tree.

After scrambling amid the fallout of a few massive slingshot launches of candy, the students trundled off to the next learning experience.

Some distance away, a crew from Trees for Life Montana adjusted the ropes they had strung around a couple of giant silver poplars as they waited for a wave of kids. Owner-arborist Ian MacCallum, who’s worked in trees for 43 years, observed, “Trees are great. They don’t talk back.”

He and the crew prepared to hoist kids up into the air and swing them around a little. “There’ll be kids who don’t want to come down. And also kids who don’t want to go up,” he said. “But most kids do it.”

When I checked back later, I saw lines of kids waiting their turn, jostling to wave at classmates in the sky, and one jumped up and down, yelling, “I love Arbor Day, yeah!”

I asked Edgerton teacher Jessica Hensley the student’s name: Evie Meade. But Hensley said she thought it was another girl who had shouted. We shrugged and smiled. Love for Arbor Day — it’s everywhere.

Audience development director Margaret E. Davis can be reached at 406-758-4436 or

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