PLYMOUTH - Smokey Bear and his buddy Martin Sandshaw, Terryville Lions Club president, gave out tree seedlings to the fourth graders of Fisher Elementary School to mark Arbor Day Friday.
Sandshaw said the club distributed more than 120 blue spruce seedlings in the morning at Fisher and the afternoon at Plymouth Center Elementary School. The seedlings are 12 to 18 inches high, with planting instructions attached.
The students all had necklaces of neon green shoelaces made from recycled water bottles, each with a little poem on it that read “Love trees and make the world beautiful with your care.”
The Lions have been providing the seedlings to fourth graders, “we call them Fourth Grade Foresters,” for four years now, Sandshaw said. “Our goal is to give every child who has gone through our school system a tree. So a little over 500 students have received trees so far.”
He was joined by James Deutsch, chairman of the Inland Wetlands Conservation Commission; Mayor David Merchant; and Superintendent Martin Semmel; as well as his friend Bob Bull in the Smokey costume borrowed from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Arbor Day is celebrated on different days throughout the country and the world, but in Connecticut it is the last Friday in April.
Deutsch talked to the fourth graders about how planting trees is core to the Arbor Day Foundation Mission, “because trees help to improve people’s lives.”
“In fact they provide the necessities of life itself: clean air, healthy water, a tolerable climate, people’s health and wellness,” he said, before describing some facts about Arbor Day. It was started by J. Sterling Morton, who encouraged people to plant a million trees in the open areas of his home state of Nebraska in 1872.
About 10 years later a man from Connecticut, Birdsey Northrup, was responsible for expanding the idea worldwide, Deutsch said. “Just remember that one man came up with an idea that basically changed the world.”
“Does anybody know what the state tree is Connecticut is?” he asked.
After a few guesses, a boy came up with white oak. “Right,” Deutsch said. “We actually have a white oak tree right down the street from us in Baldwin Park.”
A million trees is a lot of trees, Merchant said, quizzing the kids on some of the products trees provide: oxygen, paper, pencils, houses, furniture.
“So imagine how horrible it would be if we cut down all the trees to use them and then didn’t plant new trees,” he said. “Trees are very, very important.”
Merchant took one of the seedlings out of its plastic wrapper and showed it to the kids.
“This is a baby tree. What is this tree going to need? Water, sunlight. It needs taking care of. So we’re going to give each one of you guys these trees today and it’s up to you to take care of it. This is a living thing. Your parents can help you. Dig your hole, water it and make sure it gets sun so it can grow,” he said.
“This is your responsibility now,” he added. “This will grow up to be a giant tree.”
Semmel told the children how he enjoys just being outside among trees.
“So when you are in your backyard, or someplace where there are trees, just take a look at them and appreciate them,” he said. “They are really beautiful and they offer so much to the environment.”
Susan Corica can be reached at (860) 584-0501 ext. 1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.