FOLLANSBEE - Mayor Tony Paesano and the city's volunteer tree committee recruited fifth-graders at Follansbee Middle School to help them in marking Arbor Day with the planting of three trees near the school on May 2.
The annual observance, which includes a poster contest in which pupils used illustrations showing the benefits of planting trees, has helped the city to earn the designation of Tree City USA for 16 consecutive years.
The honor is given by the Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, to cities that have a tree board or department, an ordinance and budget for the care of trees on city property and a yearly observance of Arbor Day.
Follansbee is one of just 15 West Virginia communities to receive the honor this year.
Paesano said only Williamstown exceeds Follansbee in the number of times it has been named Tree City USA, with the Wood County community receiving it 27 years.
"The city of Follansbee has been green before green was cool," he told the fifth-graders as they gathered above the city's softball field to observe the planting of three bradford pears.
The three are among eight that have been planted near the field by pupils from the middle school.
Doing the honor this year were Sydney Misenhelder, Mason Zopp and Evan Cuomo, winners of the poster contest. The three also received $50 savings bonds.
All of the pupils received tree saplings and certificates declaring them junior state foresters.
Assisting the students were John J. Pizzuti, Robert Shute and Paesano, who with Patsy Gaudio, comprise the city's tree committee; and Bob Hannah, urban forestry coordinator for the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
Hannah also explained the origin of Arbor Day. He noted it was started in 1854 by J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska newspaper editor.
Nebraska's tall grass prairies were well suited for farming but the terrain lacked trees needed to build homes for the state's pioneers as well as fuel to heat them.
To encourage the planting of trees, Morton initiated the first Arbor Day observance with support from the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture.
Prizes were offered to those who planted the largest number of trees, and it's said that more than 1 million trees were planted on that day, Hannah said.
Soon other states followed Nebraska's example, and by 1894, Arbor Day was celebrated in each of them.
Hannah noted Morton left another legacy, at least indirectly, as his son founded the Morton Salt Co.
Hannah said Arbor Day now is celebrated in Nebraska on April 22, Morton's birthday, and is observed nationally on the last Friday of April. But the West Virginia Division of Forestry has named April and May as Arbor Months, he said.
Performing the national anthem for the event was the Follansbee Middle School Band under the direction of Lakin Weaver, who was substituting for Jason Dean, the school's band director.
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