Growing a little clout
Airway Heights receives 10th consecutive Tree City national award
For the past 10 years, Airway Heights has been one of only a few thousand cities in the United States to receive a Tree City USA award.
To make it 10 years in a row, however, carries some clout with it.
J.C. Kennedy, parks, recreation and community services director, said applying for the award is an annual goal for the department. Only 3,400 cities across the country receive the award each year.
In an effort to highlight the achievement, the city applied for a grant offered by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Forestry Services. The grant, which the city received last week, was specifically for cities receiving the award.
Agencies review grant applications at the end of each month and are working from a total sum of $100,000. Larger cities like Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia are also seeking funds, which encouraged Airway Heights to expedite its application. The city found a large amount of matching funds, which Kennedy said likely helped in the application process.
Airway Heights jumped at the opportunity to help fund the development of Aspen Grove Park’s canopy. Money received from the grant will help plant some of the over 150 trees that will be in the park. Aspen Grove Park is located in the western portion of the city near North Craig Road and West Sixth Avenue. Schimmel Construction began work on phase one earlier this month, which is expected to last until early July. Among the elements involved in phase one include a significant amount of earthwork to shape the site, installation of an automated irrigation system and the installation of a paved pathway system.
Cities applying for the Tree City USA award need to meet four criteria in order to be considered. The city must have a designated tree board, or park board like Airway Heights. It must also have a tree care ordinance, which the city passed 10 years ago, and an annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita. The final requirement is the city must make a proclamation to observe Arbor Day.
“The $2 per capita, you can use that money to sweep the leaves off the street in the fall, a percentage of your irrigation costs, labor and time or materials costs in improving the park,” Kennedy said.
The city keeps track of its expenses throughout the year in regards to capita-related projects.
Engaging the community throughout the park development process, and throughout the year in general, is an important aspect of the Parks and Recreation Department. Part of that work falls in line with handling the funds properly.
“They like to see some type of community outreach,” Kennedy said of the grant financiers.
Trees planted at Aspen Grove Park are likely to be pine, maple and oak at first, in an effort to get some of the more bulky and hearty trees in first. Plantings will likely take place in September, when the hottest temperatures of the summer have passed.
“The focus of it (the grant) was to increase the community’s tree canopy,” Kennedy said.
Although the Tree City program stopped its annual poster contest a few years ago, Airway Heights continues to encourage its younger residents to create a poster design. About 15 classes at Sunset Elementary take part in the design contest. The top poster from each class goes on to be a finalist, where one winner is selected to have their design framed and have their photo taken with the mayor.
“The kids like it, and the teachers embrace it,” Kennedy said. “If we can get them to embrace and understand the importance of the trees, they’re our stewards. They take ownership of it and what’s going on down there.”
Aspen Grove Park covers about 8.5 acres in the city, and was donated from a residential developer in conjunction with the city’s park ordinance.
Kennedy said studies have shown that trees have a special impact on people, helping to reduce traffic speeds when they’re placed near the roadway. Airway Heights’ highway beautification concept factors in a healthy amount of trees along the Highway 2 corridor.
“From an economic standpoint, there is research now that shows trees actually have a traffic calming effect,” he said. “When you have an area that is well-treed, people are more comfortable there. That’s just part of our DNA.”
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.