By Cindy Larson

COLUMBIA CITY — In honor of being a Tree City USA for the past 25 years, Columbia City was recently rewarded with — what else? — a tree.

A small American Beech tree is taking root near the South Line Street bench along the trail. Hopefully one day it will grow strong and tall to provide shade for those using the trail or taking a break on the bench.

The Tree City USA designation was established by the Arbor Day Foundation in 1976 to encourage cities and towns to expand their number of public trees and learn how to care for them properly.

Columbia City resident Ken Lundquist has been president of the Tree Board for more than 10 years, and he explained what is required for the Tree City USA designation.

The Arbor Day Foundation specifies four requirements:

* The community must have a tree board or tree department.

* The community must have a tree ordinance.

* The community must spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry.

* The community must celebrate Arbor Day each year.

Columbia City has satisfied those four requirements for the past 25 years.

For several years, an Arbor Day celebration has taken place at Mary Raber Elementary School. This year Mayor Ryan Daniel read a proclamation declaring May 3 as Arbor Day, and then second-graders took turns reading their “tree” jokes.

The city brought in outside experts to help care for the street trees. A consulting group out of Indianapolis, Davey Resource Group Inc., recommends each year what trees need to be cut down, which need to be pruned and what new trees should be planted where. Davey Resource Group gave the American Beech to Columbia City and planted it as a way to celebrate the community’s 25 years as a Tree City USA.

Street trees are those that grow within 29-30 feet from the middle of the road, Lundquist said. They’re part of the city’s right-of-way. Aside from being aesthetically appealing, they provide practical benefits as well.

”The biggest (benefit) is stormwater runoff because of the amount of water the trees absorb,” Lundquist said. The absorption prevents that water from going into storm sewers. Street trees also take carbon out of the air, he said.

Lundquist said in an average year, the tree board hires contractors to trim about 50 trees, plant 23-27, and cut down around 30.

He sometimes deals with people who mistakenly believe a street tree is on their property. If people object to a tree being removed, planted or trimmed, he tries to work with them to come up with a solution agreeable to all.

Sometimes Lundquist gets hands-on in his role. For example, he has had to haul water to the new American Beech tree during dry periods this summer.

He really didn’t have any interest or knowledge of trees when he was asked to be on the board. He was just doing a favor for a neighbor.

His attitude has changed over time.

”Once I got involved in this, it got kind of interesting,” he said.