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In 1976 the Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters, launched the Tree City USA program.  Now 40 years later, this program continues to recognize communities demonstrating a commitment of caring for and managing community trees.  In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Tree City USA program, we will be featuring Tree City USA communities throughout the next few months. 

Below, Larry Kotchman, North Dakota State Forester, reflects on his involvement in the Tree City USA program over the last 40 years. And Junction City, Kansas, one of the sixteen communities recognized annually since the inception of the program, highlights how Tree City USA helps them continue to manage and expand their urban forest.


Tree City USA

Larry Kotchman, North Dakota State Forester

This year, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program.  Sixteen communities across the nation have been part of the Tree City USA program since the beginning in 1976.  Grand Forks and Mandan, North Dakota, are two of those original communities being honored for their commitment to preserve and enhance their public trees. 

The recent North Dakota State Arbor Day events recognizing Grand Forks and Mandan were special.  Community leaders, students and the public celebrated the 40th anniversary by planting trees to commemorate the events.  Dozens of enthusiastic students from Discovery Elementary School planted 40 trees to mark 40 years of Arbor Day celebrations in Grand Forks.  Mandan’s Lewis and Clark Elementary School students planted a Thunder Child flowering crabapple tree to honor their community forestry accomplishments.  For many young students, it was their first chance to plant a tree.  Hopefully, these Arbor Day observances sparked their interest and a new generation of tree planters will take root.


Discovery Elementary Students
Grand Forks, ND


Arborist and Students Planting Thunder Child Crabapple
Mandan, ND


For 40 years, the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program has been instrumental in promoting the importance of planting and caring for trees.  My introduction to the program began with presenting Grand Forks its first Tree City USA award while I was serving as a new district forester in North Dakota.  As state forester, I now had the privilege to join community supporters in celebrating their 40th anniversary.  Grand Forks and Mandan have developed outstanding community forestry programs for which they can be very proud.  Other communities have emulated their success leading to remarkable growth in the Tree City USA program.  The original 16 cities now include more than 3,400 communities nationwide with 51 being recognized in North Dakota.  Sibley, North Dakota, population 28, holds the distinction of being the smallest Tree City USA community.  New York City, population 8.4 million, is the largest. 


Grand Forks, ND


Mandan, ND


My commitment to Tree City USA started in Grand Forks forty years ago.  I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to the program and to support North Dakota communities in establishing urban and community forestry programs.  The credit for achieving the Tree City USA standards belongs to our participating community leaders, tree boards, volunteers and city residents who value trees.  In North Dakota, we are gratified that 67 percent of our citizens reside in a Tree City.  Being a Tree City improves the quality of life in our state and beyond.  Trees enhance our neighborhoods by increasing property values, reducing home heating and cooling costs, removing air pollutants and reducing storm water runoff from city streets. 

Presenting Grand Forks Mayor, Michael Brown, and Mandan Mayor, Arlyn Van Beek, with a special flag and plaque commemorating 40 years as a Tree City is a testimony to the nation’s successful Tree City USA program.  In 1976, the Arbor Day Foundation envisioned a program aligned with its mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.  I think Tree City USA perfectly fulfills this mission.

Blog written by: Larry Kotchman, North Dakota State Forester
Mandan, ND photo credit: Joel Nichols, Community Forestry Specialist, North Dakota Forest Service, Bismarck, ND
Grand Forks, ND photo credit: Tom Claeys, Forestry and Fire Management Team Leader, North Dakota Forest Service, Bismarck, ND


Junction City, Kansas

Tree City USA Program

Junction City’s City Manager and Public Works Superintendent wanted to help the image of the town and decided that applying for the Tree City USA program in April 1976 would be a good start towards working to that goal. 

When the program first got started the effort was made to maintain the trees in the City streets and alleys, removal of dead trees in the City streets and to plant trees along the street right-a-way. Arbor Day celebration consisted of having tree giveaways to citizens to plant at their homes.

In 1998 the City Manager wanted the Tree City program to be a more educational and the opportunity was afforded to Public Works when the middle school approached Public Works to teach students how to properly plant trees and for the next six years trees were planted around the middle school for the Arbor Day Celebration with assistance of the 7th grade classes.

In 2004 the focus was still on education but Public Works wanted to partner with the Kansas Forest Service for their Arbor Day Poster contest program.  The Tree City program turned to the eight elementary schools 5th grade classes who entered the Arbor Day Poster contest for the first time that year. In its first year of the Arbor Day Poster Contest Junction City was able to be awarded the North Central District Poster Winner.

For the past twelve years Junction City has partnered with the Kansas Forest Service’s Arbor Day Poster contest and the city’s eight elementary schools.  Arbor Day is celebrated at the elementary school with the winning students Arbor Day Poster.  All participating students from each school are recognized for their achievement and given certificates of accomplishment and tree saplings to take home to plant and nurture.

Blog written by: Ray Ibarra