KU to celebrate 140th anniversary of first Arbor Day on campus with special event Friday

photo by: Nick Krug

University of Kansas senior Robert Adams, Peachtree City, Georgia, tosses a couple handfuls of dirt from a hole as he and junior Alex Collier, St. Louis, level it before planting a crabapple tree on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 next to the Campanile on the campus of the University of Kansas.

Not too long ago, the state’s flagship university was losing more of its beloved trees than could be replaced. In 2012, the University of Kansas removed 87 trees from its campus atop Mount Oread, planting only 42 new trees to make up the difference.

But, thanks to the efforts of KU’s Replant Mount Oread initiative, also launched in 2012, the gap has been slowly closed over the past few years. Since the program’s inception, students and others in the KU community have helped plant 175 trees, also adding to the rolling landscape’s beauty with plantings of irises, peonies, vinca and shrubs.

“Now, students really have the opportunity to maintain that tradition and contribute to what our campus will look like decades from now,” says Jeff Severin, director of KU’s Center for Sustainability and project coordinator for Replant Mount Oread.

It’s a tradition that dates back to March 29, 1878, when Chancellor James Marvin canceled classes in celebration of the first Arbor Day at KU. Students were encouraged to aid in the planting of nearly 300 trees across Mount Oread that day with the goal of reshaping the landscape of a still-very-young prairie university.

This Arbor Day, in celebration of the first holiday’s 140th anniversary at KU, students and others in the campus community are again encouraged to get involved in caring for the trees of Mount Oread. On Friday, Replant will host a ceremony at 11 a.m. on the lawn of Watson Library highlighting the history of the project and its success in restoring trees to the KU campus.

After the ceremonial planting of an oak tree on the library lawn, volunteers will then tie ribbons around trees from past Replant plantings. The plan is to post signs in surrounding areas educating visitors on the ecological services of each group of trees, including benefits like stormwater management, energy savings and pollution reduction, among others.

Severin says that first Arbor Day at KU back in 1878 created a shift in how the campus landscape was managed, with early planners envisioning it as forested area, “as opposed to more of a grassland,” he explained. By the time Replant Mount Oread launched in 2012, Severin says, it had been years since a concerted push was made to replant trees lost to damage and disease.

“Replant is our way of bringing back some of that tradition, of paying attention to the landscape and to trees in particular on campus,” Severin says. “How important they are for environmental reasons, for providing shade to students on their walk to class, and just the beauty they provide to the campus landscape.”

These days, hardwood trees once again line Jayhawk Boulevard, and crabapples, redbuds and other flowering varieties once again dot the Campanile hillside — thanks to Replant Mount Oread and recent construction projects taking part in a universitywide “shift” toward sustaining KU’s campus forest, Severin says.

Getting students involved in the planting of trees, he says, and affording them the opportunity to create a lasting, physical connection to their university “reflects back to that history of that first Arbor Day, where classes were canceled and students went out and planted trees all around campus.”

“We have a responsibility, I think, to future Jayhawks, to make sure we’re planting trees that will be enjoyed 20, 30 years from now,” Severin says. “Because if we’re not taking that step, then over time the campus forest will really start to decrease, and future students and community members who come to visit our campus won’t have that same opportunity to enjoy the beauty and the benefits of the trees that we do today.”

Friday’s event also marks the sixth year in a row that KU’s Lawrence campus has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a “Tree Campus USA.” To achieve this status, KU must meet five requirements that include maintaining a campus tree advisory board, tree care plan and tree care budget, in addition to providing students with service-learning opportunities and hosting an annual Arbor Day event.

KU Medical Center was recognized as a “Tree Campus USA” during a recognition event in Lawrence last month. The city of Lawrence is also celebrating four decades as a “Tree City USA” this year.

A map of Replant sites and details about previous plantings can be found online at the KU Center for Sustainability website, www.sustain.ku.edu/replant/projects.