VALPARAISO | For several years the city has earned the Tree City USA designation from the state's Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, but in 2012 it went one step farther.
Valparaiso was the only recipient of Growth Award among the eight cities in Lake and Porter Counties to be name Tree Cities. The award will be presented by the forestry division staff during the upcoming Arbor Day celebration. The national program is sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.
To be a Tree City, a community must adopt a public tree care ordinance, designate a municipal department and tree advisory committee, spend at least $2 per capita for its tree care program and have an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. A total of 65 Indiana communities met those qualifications.
Communities that have been Tree Cities for at least two consecutive years and completed activities that earned 10 or more points in any of four categories, such as education and public relations, partnerships, planning and management and tree planting and maintenance, can receive the Growth Award. Only 16 in the state got that honor.
Ann Brugos, executive assistant to the city's Public Works Department, said the city scored 41 points with activities that included publishing tree related news in the city's quarterly newsletter, launching the Neighbors Against Bad Bugs to tag more than 600 ash trees potentially infested with the emerald ash borer, and creating the Shade Brigade of volunteers who plant trees and raise awareness of the benefits of trees.
The city also got a $20,000 Urban Waters grant from the DNR to help replace some of the ash trees removed because of the ash borer infestation, especially in critical watershed areas for stormwater and flood control. Trees also were planted along Lincolnway and in the Silhavy Road/Chicago Street area.
Public Works Director Matt Evans said, "It's nice we received that recognition because we have put a lot of effort into garnering community and volunteer support for preserving the tree canopy and expanding it. It's not just for now. It's for decades to come so it is for our kids as well. There are a ton of benefits of the trees and the shade."
"The city was pretty aggressive building the canopy back up knowing we would be removing hundreds of trees because of the ash borer," Brugos said. "It really spurred us to find creative ways to replace those. We went after grants and got community people involved, which enabled us to do more than if we had relied on contractors."
Altogether the city removed 128 trees last year and planted more than 300. Another 40 will be planted this spring using the Urban Waters funds. Evans said anyone wanting to join the Shade Brigade can contact the public works department.
"It was initiated to be a cooperative effort between the government and the people we serve," he said. "We hope to get more people involved in it and for it to take on a life of its own so we will have a nice legacy for the generations to come."