Tree City USA plaque
A plaque recognizing Philomath’s Tree City USA distinction hangs on a wall in City Hall. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

You can’t deny the value that trees bring to a community. They prevent soil erosion, clean the air, slow water runoff and serve as a buffer to noise. Heck, they can even increase property values. And, they’re pleasing to the eye.

Philomath takes its trees seriously.

“Being a Tree City enhances our overall livability in the community,” Public Works Operations Supervisor Garry Black said. “Trees have value, not only financial value, but just the overall aesthetic value to our streets and neighborhoods.”

The Tree City reference is important to Black. He learned recently that Philomath has officially been designated by the Arbor Day Foundation as a “Tree City USA” community. Philomath has earned the distinction for 27 straight years now.

“I think there are 69 cities in all of Oregon that are tree cities,” Black said. “We’re in the top 15 for longevity, which is pretty substantial considering we’re going up against cities like Portland that’s at 44 years.”

To earn the Tree City USA designation, cities have to meet four core standards of urban forestry management — maintain a tree board or department, enact a community tree ordinance, spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrate Arbor Day. The program has been around since 1976 and more than 3,400 cities nationwide have earned the title.

In recent years, the city has hosted an Arbor Day celebration that involves young schoolchildren from Philomath and Kings Valley. The pandemic led to the cancellation of last year’s event while the Arbor Day Foundation waived the requirement. This year, it’s optional if cities want to have celebrations.

Black said that this year, “we’re not going to involve the school kids just because by the time I try to coordinate it, I don’t think I can make it happen in time.”

One of the complications involves an unknown date exactly when kids might be back to classroom learning. But Black added, “With the climate right now, it’s probably not a good idea to get 120 kids all together with a bunch of other kids they don’t know.”

Black said the city employees enjoy the event with the kids and hopes it’ll be back in 2022. But Philomath hasn’t nixed an Arbor Day event completely with plans to have a smaller, ceremonial gathering that stresses the importance of trees.

“I feel that I still want to do it and we need to plant trees anyway, so we’ll do something,” Black said. “We have some trees to plant along Applegate Street … we’ll invite the mayor, councilors and anybody really who wants to be there.”

One of Philomath’s goals in its Urban Forestry Plan is a healthy tree canopy of 40%.

“I’d say we’re around 40%,” Black said. “It’s not a requirement for Tree City, but it’s something that we strive for.”

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