Eric Niemann, Garry Black and Chris Workman with award
Mayor Eric Niemann, left, and City Manager Chris Workman, right, pose for a congratulatory photo with Garry Black, who this year was recognized with the Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Award. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Watching over Flossie Overman Discovery Park in Philomath, an owl watches over activities of the day while providing an attractive visual for those who visit.

Five years ago, property owners were trimming and removing a few trees on the corner of North Eighth and Pioneer while contemplating future projects. A fir tree that was dying was being removed but the opportunity for carving an owl sculpture out of the stump surfaced while the rest of the wood would be donated to help the local youth club raise money through its firewood sale.

Garry Black, Public Works operations supervisor, and Lige Weedman, city arborist, worked on the project, which served as an example of a good sustainability practice to reutilize a natural resource rather than discarding it.

Earlier this year, Black and Weedman were both recognized for their work with the city. The Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Award went to Black and the Maynard C. Drawson Award to Weedman. Mayor Eric Niemann and representatives of the awarding organizations honored both during the Dec. 14 City Council meeting.

Black, who has worked for the city for 15-plus years, has led the effort to make sure Philomath maintains its Tree City USA designation. In 2017, Black helped introduce a new Arbor Day event to the community, an opportunity for Philomath and Kings Valley youth to learn about trees and plant a seedling.

“Our youth and our community have positive experiences planting trees thanks to Garry and his leadership in this area,” Niemann said.

Black has contributed to the cause in many other ways, such as the city’s effort to stabilize Newton Creek between residences and the Van Hunsaker Bike Trail, a project that featured tearing out undesirable trees and replacing them with more attractive species.

Black also interacts with the public about trees that pose a risk to citizen safety or public utilities and brings those matters to a tree board at Public Works Committee meetings. And he’s worked with several Eagle Scout candidates to achieve their rank with ideas for projects in the community that involve trees and timber.

Black thanked the mayor and Oregon Community Trees, a nonprofit organization directed by urban and community tree experts across the state, for the honor.

“I’d also like to receive this award for the city of Philomath,” Black said. “With the hard work of our crew, we strive to make it more liveable and one of those tasks and one of those missions is to plant as many trees as possible. We will continue to do this for a long time coming.”

OCT board member Samantha Wolf presented the award virtually to Black.

Mayor Eric Niemann, left, poses for a photo with Maynard C. Drawson Award recipient Lige Weedman during Monday night’s City Council meeting. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Weedman, a 2002 Philomath High graduate who advanced through Terry Selby’s forestry program, has worked for the city for the past seven years.

In a nomination letter for the award, Niemann wrote, “Lige has been instrumental in helping the city progress toward its ultimate goal of 40% tree canopy. Philomath is currently at approximately 38% urban canopy thanks to Lige’s hard work.”

Philomath’s love affair with trees has grown beyond the community’s heritage through annual recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation. Black said that he recently received word that Philomath will again be designated as a Tree City USA community for the 27th straight year in 2021.

“Lige has helped Philomath maintain this tradition through his efforts as an arborist caring for the city’s trees,” Niemann said, calling him a major contributor to the effort.

Niemann said Weedman has become the “Lorax of Philomath.”

“He is the guardian of the forest and spokesman for the trees around Philomath,” Niemann wrote in the nomination letter. “He works hard to improve our urban canopy by planting trees. He educates the public about the value and sustainment of trees through unique Arbor Day events, Eagle Scout projects and other public outreach. Finally, Lige goes above and beyond the normal call of duty to conserve and reutilize historic trees to enhance parks and preserve historic buildings.”

Oregon Travel Information Council Program Administrator Annie von Domitz virtually presented the award to Weedman. The council administers the Oregon Heritage Tree program for the state.