The lyrics of SUNY Cortland’s alma mater begin with the phrase, “By lofty elm trees shaded round.”
So it was fitting that College President Erik J. Bitterbaum and other campus community members gathered Friday beneath the limbs of a “lofty elm” near the Miller Building - a Scot’s elm (Ulmus glabra) to be exact - to launch both an ambitious campus tree-naming program and an annual Arbor Day celebration.
A nameplate identifying the species of the tree and providing a QR code linking to additional information was the first of dozens of identifying labels that the College hopes to post on different trees during the 2013-14 academic year.
Together, the labeled trees will make up a new “Campus Tree Walk” that inquisitive strollers can explore with a smartphone, iPad or other device able to read QR codes. In all, SUNY Cortland’s sprawling campus includes about 1,500 trees, according to Professor Steven Broyles, chair of the Biological Sciences Department and a member of the campus Tree Advisory Committee.
“We want to demonstrate that we understand and value the importance of trees in providing a healthy and sustainable environment,” Bitterbaum said. “Starting this year, we will formally recognize Arbor Day on campus. Eventually, we hope to be designated as a “Tree Campus USA.”
Ninety college campuses across the country are currently designated as a “Tree Campus” by the national Arbor Day Foundation. In the State University of New York system, only the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse has that honor, which indicates a campus’ trees are effectively managed and its students both understand the value of trees and are engaged in their support.
“The campus recognizes that trees are an economic, as well as an aesthetic, asset,” said Broyles, noting that the towering elm on which he and President Bitterbaum screwed a temporary version of the sign pulls about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. “The trees reduce heating costs, they serve as wind blocks, they filter pollution and they help control storm water. They perform lots of interesting environmental services. We want to protect that and improve our urban forest.”
One of the elements of SUNY Cortland’s application for the designation is an annual campus recognition of Arbor Day. On Friday, at 10 a.m., President Bitterbaum began a new tradition, formally proclaiming an impressive elm tree on the north side of Miller as “The President’s Tree” and pledging to celebrate on campus the importance of trees to the environment every Arbor Day.
Arbor Day comes at the end of Sustainability Month at SUNY Cortland. Sustainability month features a range of campus and community activities aimed at raising awareness of environmental, energy and agricultural issues.
Permanent signage with working QR codes will eventually be affixed to most campus trees with special spring-loaded screws that allow the tree to grow. Signage for large trees, like the Arbor Day elm, will be 4-by-6 inches. Plaques on smaller trees will be 3-by-5 inches.
Each sign will include some basic information about the tree, as well as a QR code that can take viewers with devices capable of reading the code to a web page providing additional details about each particular species.
The project grew out of the work of the tree advisory committee, which was charged with reviewing the care of existing campus trees and oversight of plans to plant new trees. Committee members include Broyles; Amy Shellman, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation Parks and Leisure Studies; Adam Levine, campus data systems administrator; Claire Hartl, a conservation biology major; Michael Ullbwerg, a geography major; Paul Paradine, forester and lead analyst for vegetation management at NYSEG; Matthew Swayze, forester with the state Department of Environmental Conservation; David Horrocks, assistant director for buildings and grounds services; Donald Moody, supervisor of grounds; and Nasrin Parvizi, vice president of Facilities Management