Northfield fourth and fifth graders flooded the hillside of Northfield Park last Thursday afternoon searching for the best spots to plant trees.
The 86 students were tasked by Gering Parks and Recreation director Amy Seiler to plant 100 trees in honor of Arbor Day, which was declared April 22, 2021, in Gering in a proclamation by Mayor Tony Kaufman, which was read at the celebration in the park.
Seiler said April 22 just made sense for hosting the tree-planting holiday.
“We decided to do it this year on Earth Day just because we thought it was totally appropriate,” she said. “Secondly, it’s my dad’s birthday, and I always planted trees on my dad’s birthday.”
The celebration started with a brief history presentation on the holiday and the important role trees play in our environment and everyday lives. Seiler said that it is crucial not only to celebrate Arbor Day, but to show kids of the community what makes the day so special.
“Arbor Day is incredibly important, particularly for the state of Nebraska; it’s a holiday that originated in Nebraska,” she said. “It’s to celebrate the planting of trees, which is basically giving to the next generation and doing something that you genuinely will not have any benefit from, but you know, by your work, somebody else will benefit greatly from it.”
Seiler then explained to the students how to properly dig a hole, separate the sapling’s roots, put it in the ground and water the tree.
Students then separated into groups of five and got to plant one tree each, helping each other with the water, shovel and mulch. To finish the job, they stuck white flags next to their newly planted trees to signify those planted in 2021. Larger saplings with other colored flags dotted the hillside from previous years as well.
“It feels really great to plant trees,” fifth grader Jery Rodenbaugh said. “I think people will really enjoy this experience. It’s awesome.”
Typically it is just Northfield fourth graders that participate in the celebration every year, but since last year’s fourth graders didn’t get the opportunity, Seiler invited them to join in the fun too.
Once the students finished planting their 100 trees, they had one last activity to complete: an Arbor Day scavenger hunt. The list of tasks was complete with finding everything from moss on a tree to a tree “with a healed injury.” Now that the students were tree experts, they flew through Northfield Park in search of their items. At the end of the day, the students were rewarded for their hard work with refreshing ice pops.
Students said they were glad to get out of the classroom a little while and breathe in some fresh air — all while helping the community and the environment.
“It feels like we’re making a mark in history,” fifth grader Jarely Rodriguez said.
Seiler said Arbor Day is not only important for the state of Nebraska, but it’s very important to the city of Gering as well.
“This holiday is so important for our community because we have a very rich history of planting trees in Gering,” she said. “We’ve been a Tree City USA for 31 years now, and it shows our commitment to tree planting and passing on this wisdom to the next generation.”