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Campus to celebrate Arbor Day

The campus of the Red Dragons will get a little greener on Arbor Day, when three new saplings will join SUNY Cortland’s already impressive urban forest.

All members of the university community are invited to watch or help plant a shagbark hickory, a white oak and a yellow birch in the Sperry Center/Bowers Hall Quad during an 11 a.m. ceremony on Friday, April 28. Two additional saplings will go in the ground near the back of the Cornish-Van Hoesen halls as part of the day’s celebrations.

This event and others during that week is organized by SUNY Cortland’s Tree Advisory Committee. The campus has marked Arbor Day with special events for 10 years.

This year, the advisory committee also plans to hold an Arbor Day Scavenger Hunt, from Monday, April 24 to Friday, April 28.

“Trees around campus will be marked and designated as Arbor Day Ambassadors,” said committee member N. Qwynne Lackey, an assistant professor in the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department.

A campus community member marks an Arbor Day tree planting in 2019. In the top image, student volunteers help plant a new tree near Bowers Hall in 2023.

Students who want to participate will have all week to find as many trees as possible and meet to claim their prize on April 28 at the Arbor Day table in the Student Life Center lobby. Prizes include T-shirts, houseplants, tree pencils, stickers and more. Student volunteers from the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department will staff the table from noon to 6 p.m.

Campus community members also vie for additional prizes by competing in a Tree Trivia Contest about the importance of trees in our lives that is also coordinated by the recreation volunteers.

“Going out and planting trees isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, so we developed some interactive trivia games that should prove educational and fun for those who participate,” said another committee member, Dan Dryja ’04, director of Facilities Operations and Services.

“I am excited to have a space to share my passion about environmental education through the Arbor Day Celebration,” said committee member Serena Wilk, a junior outdoor recreation major at SUNY Cortland.

SUNY Cortland’s Arbor Day events are supported by the William L. Haines ’63 President’s Discretionary Fund.

Starting in 2013, the Tree Advisory Committee began installing tree labels on more than 30 species dotting the campus grounds. The number has since grown to well over that number. These labels have educational information on them and a QR code linked to a Campus Trees web page where users can learn more about the species and where the tree is located on campus.

This year the yellow birch, Betula alleghaniensis, represents a new species for the campus.

“The campus does have a better diversity of trees today than we did 10 years ago,” said committee member Steve Broyles, a botanist and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the university’s Biological Sciences Department.

The original inventory included the “lofty elm” immortalized in SUNY Cortland’s historic alma mater. Subsequent additions include burr oak, swamp white oak, tulip poplar, river birch, blue beach, catalpa, Kentucky coffeetree and a Dutch elm disease resistant specimen called wych elm.

Distinguished Teaching Professor Steve Broyles, right, observes a 2019 Arbor Day planting ceremony.

“This diversity improves the health of our ecosystem by promoting diversity of insects, birds, fungi and other organisms that we don’t fully appreciate or understand,” Broyles said. “It improves the stability of our ecosystem and makes it more resistant to diseases and pests. We have more shapes, colors, forms of trees than 10 years ago, and this also makes the campus more beautiful, inviting and visually interesting.”

“Trees provide so many benefits for ecosystems and people alike, including benefits related to mental health,” Lackey added. “Right now, both sustainability and mental health are important priorities at SUNY Cortland. Arbor Day is another great opportunity to help people recognize these benefits and encourage them to get outside and start experiencing the benefits of trees firsthand.”

The three new trees are part of a much larger effort to save the earth as we know it. The shady plantings underscore the university’s commitment to being “greener” and more sustainable. Nine years ago, in 2014, SUNY Cortland’s dedication to establishing and sustaining a vibrant, urban forest earned the university recognition as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

To earn this distinction, SUNY Cortland had to meet the five core standards for sustainable campus forestry required by Tree Campus USA: Establishment of a tree advisory committee, evidence of a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for a campus tree program, an official Arbor Day observance and sponsorship of student service-learning projects.

The university is well on track to regain its Tree Campus USA status, which lapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic when health mandates prevented the required civic activities.

Created in 2008, the prime focus of the Tree Campus USA program was to help higher educational institutions around the country establish and sustain healthy community forests. Through 2021, campus participation has grown from 29 campuses to 411 campuses, from 5,867 trees to 31,584 trees. These campuses, with more than 4.6 million in total student enrollment, identify 26,448 students engaged in related service-learning projects.

“We have a lot of people on campus, including administrators, faculty, staff and students, who are doing great work to ensure that SUNY Cortland has a healthy tree population on campus,” Lackey said. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of a community that makes sustainability on campus a priority.”