Philomath Arbor Day celebration
A Kings Valley kindergartener picks up a tree to take home at Friday's Arbor Day celebration at Philomath Public Works. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath third graders and Kings Valley kindergarteners took advantage of an opportunity to get outdoors on Friday with a trip to the city’s Public Works yard for a special Arbor Day celebration.

In future years, some of the kids in attendance might remember the morning they had an opportunity to sit in the chair of an excavator. Or, perhaps the tree they came home with will be planted and serve as a reminder about its origin.

Face it, trees often play a significant role in childhood — the apple tree in the backyard that produced fruit for grandma’s pies, the treehouse that father and son worked on together or even the broken arm that was suffered with a long fall from the branch of an oak tree. In this region, trees have been a way of life for many from logging to growing Christmas trees.

For Philomath third-grade teacher Maddy Gonzales, her favorite tree-related memory from childhood was a bit “quirky” — as she described it.

“In my front yard, we had this giant tree and my brother and I would try to get toys stuck in it,” she said. “We actually got our Woody toy (doll from “Toy Story”) stuck in there and it was up in our tree for like 15 years. It just came down like a couple of years ago.”

Philomath Arbor Day celebration
A Philomath third-grader has fun on city equipment at Friday’s Arbor Day celebration. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Garry Black, Philomath Public Works supervisor, immediately recalled from his childhood in Lebanon an incident involving a big oak tree in a farmer’s field.

“I remember being a kid playing on that … it’s not my fondest memory but my biggest memory is I fell out of that tree,” Black said. “I was about 15, 20 feet up and I hit every branch on the way down.

“I remember lying on the ground and looking up at my buddy standing over me,” he added. “I said, ‘Am I still alive?’”

Philomath Arbor Day celebration
A Philomath third-grader fills his cup with dirt to take home a tree from Friday’s Arbor Day celebration. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Black gained a new respect for trees on that day.

“I don’t take them lightly,” he laughed. “Not all branches will hold a 100-pound kid.”

Lige Weedman, city senior utility maintenance worker with arborist and risk management certifications, thought about something that happened when he was around age 5 on a trip to see his biological father in northern California.

“There were four redwood trees that were about 5- to 6-foot diameter at the base where he was going to cut them and he blocked all of the trees over and then put me in his old truck to pull them over at like 5 years old,” Weedman said. “They were all leaning over a farmer’s fence into his field and he didn’t want to ruin the crops or anything, so he cabled them all back … I got to drive the truck.”

Those are just a few fun stories from adults who were on hand for the Arbor Day celebration, which was staged for the first time since 2019 — canceled in both 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

“It’s pretty awesome to be back, having the kids here,” Black said while a line of third graders approached the Public Works yard from the elementary school. The last few years dealing with COVID sure took away the fun of Arbor Day … it’s going to be fun.”

Black and Weedman had comments for the kids to kick off the program and City Manager Chris Workman read a mayor’s proclamation. Kings Valley Charter School’s kindergarteners soon arrived and joined the fun.

Philomath Arbor Day celebration
Students answer questions at one of the educational activities set up at Friday’s Arbor Day celebration. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The event featured stations that groups of kids rotated through. At one station, the children planted a small tree in a container that they could take home. At another, Benton County Community Development and Public Works personnel had a model display that illustrated how pesticides flow. One of the most popular was an opportunity to climb aboard a backhoe and excavator. There was also a snack stop.

Philomath Police’s therapy dog, Percy, even made an appearance to visit with the kids.

“This is our second field trip that we’ve got to do this year, so they’re really excited just to be getting out of the classroom and getting a firsthand experience that this is Arbor Day and what Public Works does,” Gonzales said as students took turns sitting on the heavy equipment.

Philomath Arbor Day celebration
Lige Weedman, city arborist, asks the kids questions during Friday’s Arbor Day celebration (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Weedman said he contacted the Audubon Society, which offers various types of trees.

“We picked the trees that are going to be more suited for kids and this area,” Weedman said.

The Arbor Day Foundation recognized Philomath with the Tree City USA designation for meeting four requirements related to urban forest management. Philomath has been receiving the annual Tree City USA recognition since 1995.

“It means a lot to me and to the community and to our staff,” Black said. “We try to do the best we can for a small community and part of that is taking care of our trees.”

Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect reference to the agency involved with an interactive display. The News regrets the error.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.