To Plant a Tree
By Vicki Jackson
The annual springtime journey to collect free trees has become a ritual for hundreds of Clearwater citizens. In keeping with the tradition of Arbor Day, for nearly three decades the City has offered two specimens per household-with the price of admission being just some proof of residence. Beginning at 9:00 a.m. last Saturday, people could choose from over a dozen varieties among the 1,800 trees this year, available on a first come-first served basis.
Cars began lining up early en route to the distribution site at the Clearwater Public Works Complex on N. Arcturas. Nick Forgione, a volunteer with Americorps, said he arrived at his post at 8:15 a.m. to begin directing traffic at the intersection of Hercules and Sherwood. An enterprising couple had even set up a hotdog stand along the way. Witnessing the exiting parade of trucks, convertibles, vans and SUVs-each bursting with leafy protrusions from their various openings, I doubted there would be any potential customers left by lunchtime.
Roy Thomen, Supervisor of the City Forestry Department, coordinated the giant give-away. He attributed the heavier than usual demand for the trees, at an estimated retail value of $7 to $10 each, to the extended cold weather of our recent winter season. Asked if he would be increasing the number when he ordered for next year, he responded, "We tried that, but then the next year we had them left over." I wondered if any thought had been given to offering just Florida native trees. He said that was a great idea, but emphasized the need for diversification, as well as satisfying public preference.
Indeed, judging by the demands of the crowd, the crape myrtle, with four colors to pick from, was the overwhelming favorite. As City Councilman George Cretekos called out claim numbers from a microphone, one woman awaiting her allotment, extolled the virtues of the flowery shrub. Another was overheard to say, "I've been coming for six years, and every crape myrtle I have came from here." While I confess to taking one home myself last year, I've vowed to plant only 'natives' from now on.
By the time my number was called, they had already depleted a third of the stock, and it wasn't yet through the first hour. If you plan to go next year, you might want to get an early start. Don't neglect to throw your yellow recycling bin in the trunk before you set out. Then stop by the City recycling center just north on Hercules and pick up a load of free mulch for those new trees. We'll all be glad you did.
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