8 Great Green Practices for Arbor Day

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When J. Sterling Morton arrived in Nebraska territory in 1854, he immediately began a campaign to plant trees. Morton, a respected agriculturalist who would become Secretary of the Nebraska territory, and his fellow pioneers not only missed trees, but needed them as windbreaks (to keep soil in place), fuel, and building materials. Morton would go on to propose to the State Board of Agriculture the creation of a holiday, called "Arbor Day," to help promote the planting and nurturing of trees. It may seem strange that Morton, a staunch anti-agrarian conservative, once said, "Each generation takes the earth as trustees," but Morton was a product of his time, when agricultural practices were making way for an industrial revolution, and all of the social, economic, and political upheaval that would follow. Below are eight fun things that you, as a trustee of the planet, can do to celebrate Arbor Day.

  1. Plant a tree

    Because of the mild weather in most parts of the country, early spring is generally the best time to plant a tree. Planting trees in an urban environment is a great initiative, helping to combat CO2 emissions and beautifying the environment. Before planting, be sure to check with your local Parks and Recreation Department if there are any local requirements for digging a hole for a tree. Trees planted in inappropriate areas can cause power outages, broken sidewalks, or obstruct driver and pedestrian views of traffic.

  2. Take a hike

    Hiking can be a great way to clear your mind and exercise your body. Depending on where you live, you can visit some of the country's bigger name, more physically challenging trails and parks for your hike, including the Appalachian Trail or Grand Canyon National Park. Or type "hiking in (your city)" into Google and see what local organizations and clubs suggest as hiking trails for a low impact workout. Be sure to prepare for your hike, even if it's just through a park located in the middle of your city. Hot weather, insects, or a twisted ankle can turn a simple hike into an unpleasant endurance test.

  3. Build a treehouse

    This suggestion probably warrants its own eight-point list. A treehouse can be simple or complex, but it will always rest on a platform. The platform is your foundation for whatever crazy construction you decide to build, and will help minimize damage to the tree as well as the structure of your treehouse. Of course, this isn't a project you're going to be able to complete in a day, but for those of you already handy with a hammer and nails, it may be an ideal project to take on during the milder days of April and May.

  4. Volunteer for a beautification project

    Residents often take matters into their own hands when it comes to cleaning up and beautifying their city's neighborhoods. Organizations dedicated to coordinating beautification efforts, including litter clean up, recycling, and planting of flowers, always need volunteers to realize their projects. Get online and type "beautification" and your city into a search engine; you'll find like-minded people who volunteer their time to make the environment a better place. And volunteer work is a great thing to add to your resume, no matter what line of work you are in.

  1. Draw a tree

    Here's a more contemplative, less physically demanding activity you can try, even if you don't consider yourself "artistic." Going outdoors with a pad and pencil, and drawing without anyone looking over your shoulder, is a great way to commune with nature. If you find drawing a stick figure intimidating, try bringing a journal to write in instead (leave the iPad at home). Many incredible American artists and writers, including painter Walter Anderson and writer Henry David Thoreau were profoundly inspired by nature. Bring a drawing pad or journal outside, and see if you are similarly inspired.

  2. Prune your trees

    If you have trees in your yard, take a look to see if they need pruning. Pruning is the process of cutting and removing branches to improve the growth and health of a tree. Younger trees need to be pruned so that they grow properly, and older trees need pruning in order to remain healthy. However, improper pruning can weaken a tree's structure and allow entry for insects. Consult with a professional before getting out there with a six pack and a chain saw.

  3. Consider a career in forestry

    So maybe planting a tree and building a treehouse has inspired you to consider a career change? Careers in forestry require very specific skill sets and draw upon a variety of disciplines, including biology, physical science, and engineering. Forestry is also a very competitive field. Do a little research, and you'll discover many, many forestry-related jobs that require you to spend time in the great outdoors. As part of your research into the world of forestry, consider volunteering for the U.S. Forest Service, who employ 30,000 permanent employees across the U.S.

  4. Visit a park

    If you live in a city, and greenery is hard to come by, take a break from the concrete and glass and visit a nearby, small, public park. New York City's Central Park opened just a couple years after J. Sterling Morton arrived in the Nebraska territories, with additional improvements and expansion being completed in 1873, one year before Arbor Day became an official holiday. One of the park's landscape designers, Frederick Law Olmsted, described Central Park as "the first real park made in this country — a democratic development of the highest significance." Most cities have smaller, less expansive public parks that remain open so long as the population visits them.

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