On Memorial Day, most people think of the practice of taking flowers to the grave sites of deceased family members, especially of veterans. Some people refer to it as “Decoration Day.”It’s a loving, outward way of keeping a loved one close in memory. More and more people in our area are adding another way to honor family members who have passed away, in the form of planting a Memorial Tree.
A young tree holds the promise of growing up, bearing fruit, offering beauty, shade, and comfort -- a symbol of the life cycle of all things. Trees can outlive the person who planted it, but it stands in testimony to the hope that life and the world will go on, despite turmoil and strife, strong winds, cold and heat.
This year is the 150th anniversary of Nebraska becoming a state, and when J. Sterling Morton settled here, it was a state bereft of trees except along some of the rivers. Morton envisioned a garden state, starting with the planting of millions of trees. He established Arbor Day – a special day for planting trees, back in 1872 – and the idea spread rapidly. Over many years, Nebraska became recognized as the Tree Planter state, and the tradition of planting trees became a holiday all over the nation.
North Platte went from being a wild railroad outpost to the verdant city it is today because residents looked to the future and planted trees along streets, in yards, and they saw the need for beautiful parks. Cody Park is the jewel of the city, but smaller parks also enhance our landscape. Planners saw the necessity of a diversity of trees, especially for the semi-arid conditions of western Nebraska.
As some trees died from age, weather or insect damage, they were replaced with newer, stronger species. Cody Park has such a diversity of trees that it is now designated as an Arboretum. The Nebraska Forest Service recognizes that North Platte has maintained a community forest, and our tree canopy has qualified as a Tree City USA for the past 34 consecutive years. It is managed by the city’s Public Service Department and has been overseen by a Tree Board since 1983.
North Platte has established the Memorial Tree program to help in that effort. People work with the city when they choose to remember a loved one by planting a tree in the park system, in the name of that person. The family coordinates with the parks department in choosing a suitable tree and location. A brochure and application can be obtained at the Public Service Building on North Jeffers.
A plaque is placed at the foot of the tree, designating the person it honors and the species of the tree. Friends and family can picnic there and check on its growth year after year. Even if a family moves away, the tree remains, sheltering others. It’s a lovely way to not only remember, but to enhance our world, and know life will go on.
Local nurseries offer special discounts to those purchasing trees to be officially planted in the park system, and if interested, you may call 308-535-6700.
Park personnel will pick up the tree and properly plant it in a designated park. Plaques made of weather resistant Corian and are placed on sturdy metal stakes at the foot of each tree. People are encouraged to walk all over the parks, identify tree types and enjoy their beauty.
Tia McGuire is a member of North Platte’s Tree Board. She dedicated a Memorial Tree to her late husband, Dan McGuire.