Against a backdrop of heritage trees Wednesday in Esther Short Park, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Smith accepted an award honoring Vancouver as a Tree City USA.
While the Arbor Day Foundation recognizes more than 3,400 communities nationwide, Wednesday's award was of particular significance because it was the 25th consecutive year Vancouver met the qualifications, which include having a viable tree management plan and program and spending at least $2 per capita on tree care.
Additionally, for the fifth year the foundation acknowledged Vancouver's increased commitment to urban forestry with a Tree City USA Growth Award, an honor bestowed on approximately 500 communities.
The city has a goal of increasing its urban tree canopy — defined as the layer of leaves, branches and tree stems when viewed from above — from 18 percent to 28 percent by 2030.
Every year, the city marks Arbor Day by planting a tree in a different location, said Charles Ray, the city's urban forester.
Having the ceremony in Esther Short Park, the oldest public square in the Pacific Northwest, was of particular significance to Smith, who worked as the director of the city's parks and recreation department before he was elected to the city council. On Wednesday, he recalled the discussion over the trees in Esther Short Park when it received a makeover in the late 1990s. With plans for concerts and other activities, some people thought trees should be removed from the park's center to ensure a clear line of sight to the stage from every angle, Smith said. He's glad the decision to keep the trees won out. The 5-acre park has approximately 80 trees, including sequoias, oaks, cedars and maples.
Last year, the park was named one of 10 Great Public Spaces 2013 by the American Planning Association.
"We appreciate the recognition," Smith said, adding the city values the residents and business owners who help contribute to the tree canopy.
Ben Thompson of the state Department of Natural Resources presented the awards to Smith; Vancouver was one of 84 cities statewide to receive a Tree City USA award, according to DNR. Only the cities of Ellensburg, Cashmere, Seattle and Longview have received the award more times than Vancouver.
In 2013, the city's urban forestry department responded to 859 sites, helped 4,889 individuals, increased neighborhood tree plantings by 63 percent and planted and maintained 1,101 large trees with a survival rate of 97 percent, according to a presentation Monday to the Vancouver City Council. And 1,762 volunteers contributed more than 4,413 hours to keeping the city green.
During Wednesday's ceremony, children from a spring break day camp at Marshall Community Center received seedlings and were urged to plant them — not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren.
Jean Akers of the city's Urban Forestry Commission listed some of the numerous benefits of trees: reducing stormwater runoff, increasing air quality and beautifying neighborhoods.
"Planting the right tree in the right area makes all the difference," she said.
For the fifth year, the Urban Forestry Commission presented Mac Awards. Sylvia MacWilliams attended the ceremony to speak about the recipients of the award named for her late husband, Gordon MacWilliams, who served on the urban forestry commission and, among other things, worked on a revised street tree ordinance. This year's winners were Amy Sidran, a teacher at Fort Vancouver High School credited with reviving a horticulture department and reviving a greenhouse, and Washington Conservation Corps crew members who have been doing work in the city for three years.