Arbor Day

In 2018, Smethport Area Elementary School student Jonah McKeirnan, proudly shows the Eastern Hemlock seedling that he received during the “My Growing Tree” program from officials of the McKean County Conservation District. At right is then-recycling director Justin Lund. The Conservation District’s annual Arbor Day program was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the abundance of temporary closures, the natural environment in rural Pennsylvania is still open for exploration this Earth Day.

Jody Groshek, communications & outreach director at the McKean County Conservation District, encourages residents to mark the holiday near home.

“These unique holidays this spring are a great time to celebrate by doing a meaningful activity for the natural world close to home,” said Groshek. “With group activities on hold, you can do your part alone or with your family.”

Not only is today Earth Day, but the celebration of the environment continues on Friday, Arbor Day.

Groshek offered several suggestions for how to celebrate safely: “Take a hike, pick up litter, plant native trees or shrubs, remove invasive species, take up birding or nature journaling, learn wildflowers, become a citizen scientist and use a mobile phone app to record your sightings (such as eBird; iNaturalist, iMapInvasives), or volunteer for community conservation projects later in the year.”

The Conservation District’s physical office may be temporarily closed, but its staff are still active behind the scenes.

“While our office is currently closed due to the pandemic, and we are not holding our normal schedule of workshops and school programs, we are still working remotely,” Groshek said.

She was sad to report the Conservation District had to cancel this year two of its biggest programs for students: the “Wild Envirothon” and the My Growing Tree program. The programs could not be held due to statewide social distancing efforts.

For the “My Growing Tree” program, the Conservation District commemorates Arbor Day by traveling to local schools and giving students their own trees to take home and plant, along with a “My Growing Tree” chart. Students keep track of the trees’ height and their own height on the chart.

At the “Wild” Envirothon, teams from area schools compete by answering nature-related problems.

“We will start our programming as soon as it is safe to do so, and hope to add more school programs in the fall that were missed this spring,” Groshek added.

She offered some background on the two holidays.

“Every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970,” she explained. “Earth Day is 50 years old in 2020.”

The movement marked a new way of thinking about the environment, according to Groshek.

“Until 1970, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatened human health,” she said. “Today, the event is celebrated worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection.”

In contrast, people started celebrating Arbor Day nearly a century before the first Earth Day.

“Arbor Day dates back to 1872 when founder J. Sterling Morton encouraged pioneers in Nebraska to plant trees,” said Groshek. “In Nebraska trees helped keep soil in place and protect homes from the wind. They were also to be used for building materials, which was an original idea on the tree-less prairie. On the first Arbor Day, more than one million trees were planted mostly by school children.”

To commemorate Arbor Day, which is always the last Friday in April, Groshek suggested, “Plant a tree with your family on Friday (or Saturday) or care for some trees where you live.”

The McKean County Conservation District will continue to share ways to learn about the natural world at home, this week and all spring on their Facebook page.