Restoring Urbana's Urban Canopy One Tree at a Time
This year's Arbor Day celebration will be one of the most memorable for the City of Urbana, not only because of its virtual-celebration as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of a storm that left its mark and destroyed a great deal of Urbana's treasured canopy. It was almost a year ago when the storm-a precarious tornado-came into town without even sounding an alarm. The few moments of ripping wind would leave lasting damage to the southern portion of Urbana, mostly to its trees.
For a small city known for its urban canopy, it was quite a blow.
Urbana is a designated Tree City. At one time, before the spring storm of 2019, Urbana boasted 11,000 trees, 4,000 park trees, and an estimated 100,000 privately owned trees. Urbana's tree inventory represents one of the most diverse urban forests, not only in Illinois, but in the Midwest, as well.
Urbana values all of its trees not only as environmental and aesthetic treasures, but also as part of its history. The City takes great pride in being the first Illinois community to receive the Tree City USA designation in 1976, the program’s inaugural year, for work completed in 1975. So caring for our trees is a top priority. And that care is why Urbana has maintained the Tree City USA distinction every year since — one of only 16 cities nationwide (of the 41 charter members) to do so.
To earn the annual designation, Urbana must meet strict standards for urban forestry management as specified by the program’s overseers — the National Arbor Day Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters. The standards include maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending per capita on urban forestry, and celebrating Arbor Day.
Since 1992, Urbana has also received the Tree City Growth Award, an honor that recognizes our commitment to tree care beyond the basic requirements for the Tree City USA designation. Among those advanced initiatives are educating residents about the benefits of trees, planting and care, as well as the Arbor Division’s ongoing forestry planning, management and maintenance.
All of these efforts have brought amazing results that include:
- 73% of parkways planted in trees
- diversity that touts 262 different kinds of trees
- a comprehensive forestry management plan
- parking lot landscape ordinances
- cooperative tree planting program
- public/private greenspace partnerships and capital improvements
- downtown Urbana tax increment financing district that considers tree planting and greenspace a part of infrastructure development
- Legacy Tree Program to recognize and protect the community’s most significant trees
A walk through Urbana quickly shows just how much Urbana loves trees, and the City is working very hard to restore its canopy. Kevin Sanderson, the City of Urbana Arbor Division Supervisor and City Arborist, said that the Arbor Division would be putting in about 100 trees this spring. This will happen in part by an Urban And Community Forestry Grant of $14,250 awarded by the Morton Arboretum in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to the City of Urbana, to help improve Illinois urban forestry. Urban is among 20 Illinois communities awarded grants administered by the Morton Arboretum in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to help improve Illinois urban forestry.
"We have some bagged and others that are bare-root to be planted at different locations," Sanderson said.
Cale Beccue and Chris Buhr, both City Arborists, were out last week, putting in the bare root trees directly into the ground.
"These are fairly easy to plant," Beccue said. "We need to plant them right at the base and make sure they're straight."
Both he and Buhr were planting burl oaks that chilly spring afternoon. The oaks go easily in the ground, are then back-filled with rich black dirt, and then straightened. They were then staked so they would grow straight and not bend in the Central Illinois wind.
Please help with Urbana's Urban Canopy restoration efforts by donating to the Legacy Tree Program.
To view the virtual Arbor Day celebration, go here.