Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
“Look around this campus. Can you imagine what this campus would look like without trees?” Jacksonville mayor Johnny Smith asked the crowd that gathered by Bennett Field.
On Thursday, February 15, Jacksonville State University celebrated Arbor Day with the planting of an Overcup Oak tree near the newly christened Marching Southerners practice field.
“Oak trees are a universal symbol for strength and endurance,” biology professor and keynote speaker Dr. Jimmy Triplett said, “and it is my hope that as we move into the future, our commitment to care for our environment and our trees will endure and we will continue to find the strength to play a positive role in the well-being of our planet.”
JSU was named a Tree City USA Tree Campus in 2012, and the university has held an annual event each year to reaffirm its commitment to a beautiful campus and a healthy environment.
Arbor Day began in Nebraska in 1872 as the result of the efforts of the journalist Sterling Morton. Morton was the editor of the “Nebraska City News” and advocated for the planting of trees through his articles and editorials. He was later named the Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland.
“At Jacksonville State, we’re actually very fortunate to have a vast diversity of tree species,” Triplett said. “On a short walk, I can show students upwards of 100 different species of trees, including native oaks, maples, pines, magnolias, as well as really unusual things from all over the country and all over the world, and this is a testament to the vision of our university’s administration and the awesome grounds crew who have truly made this campus a beautiful place to be.”
The first Arbor Day was held on April 10, 1872, and the Arbor Day Foundation states that over a million trees were planted that day. The event became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1875, and April 22—Morton’s birthday—was the chosen date of observance.
Today, Arbor Day events occur February through April in an effort to raise awareness about trees and the benefits of living in a tree friendly campus, community, city, state, nation and world.
“We’re here today to celebrate trees and to show our appreciation for everything they do for us, and we’re also here to fulfill our commitment to be stewards for the environment,” Triplett said. “I think all of us are actually environmentalists at heart, even though we might not say as much with our words or our actions but just we would all wish to be in the best possible physical shape, I think we also want our environment to be in the best possible shape.”
According to Triplett, who specializes in botany, 69 per cent of Alabama is forested, a fact that helps contribute to the state’s impressive biodiversity. In fact, a 2015 biodiversity study produced maps that showed Alabama ranking among the top states in the country for its diverse populations of amphibians, reptiles, fish and trees.
Triplett also said that the timber industry employees around 170,000 Alabamians and produces $100 billion in product each year.
To conclude his portion of the program, Triplett, who is also an award-winning Appalachian fiddler, performed an original song.
Following tradition, the Johnny Appleseed Award was presented to one person for his or her efforts in supporting the JSU and Jacksonville’s commitment to being a Tree City USA. The 2018 recipient was Scott Exum of the Alabama Power Company. Each year, Alabama Power donates up to 5000 trees each year for the Jacksonville City Tree Commission’s tree giveaway. The 2018 tree giveaway will be Friday, February 16 from 2:30-5:30 p.m. on the Jacksonville public square.
Finally, assistant professor of graphic design Christian Dunn presented this year’s winner of the event poster contest: John Wippler.
“My concept for the poster started with a style that represented a finger drawing in the dirt, or like a stick drawing in the mud like you would do as kids,” Wippler said. “And the idea behind this was kind of show things that you don’t usually think about when you’re planting a tree—to draw attention to secondary effects that trees have on the environment and kind of zoom in and see what kind of environments are helped by the planting of trees. They’re not only used for preventing harmful gases and producing oxygen. They serve a larger purpose to a lot of other species, and within each tree an ecosystem is made: they have homes and shelter for bugs and different animals as well as house food to help sustain other animals, kind of in a perpetual cycle.”
Tyler Law, the athletic and grounds superintendent at JSU, and his team are responsible for organizing the Arbor Day event each year with the help of the Jacksonville Tree Commission and the JSU Tree Committee. JSU is one of only 13 colleges in Alabama that is a designated Tree Campus USA school, according to the Arbor Day Foundation website.
Listen to Jimmy Triplett’s original song below:
You can listen to Triplett’s 2006 folk album “Natural History” for free here.