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Arbor Day: Past and Present

As pioneers migrated west, settlers began to miss the trees that once coated the lands of the east. One man in particular, Nebraska newspaper editor and resident of Nebraska City NE – Julius Sterling Morton missed his community of trees. He moved to Nebraska with his wife Caroline Morton in 1854, a decade before Nebraska was considered a state. Together they bought 160 acres of land in Nebraska City and began planting a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and grasses to cover their barren plain.

Along with planting trees and tending to his land, he became editor of the state’s first newspaper the “Nebraska City News”. He used his platform to educate his readers about the importance of trees that provide wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wind and sun protection, soil stabilization, bring communities together, and are in general a beautiful site to see. Depending on where you live throughout the world, your environment differs, including trees and the niches they fulfill, which Morton helped highlight in his newspaper. 

Morton later got involved in Nebraska’s Board of Agriculture, where on January 4, 1872, while attending one of the State Agricultural board meetings he proposed the idea of “Arbor Day” as a holiday for people across the land to plant and connect over our appreciation for trees. He went on to become secretary of the Nebraska Territory where he was able to gain momentum with spreading his love for trees amongst his community. 

The first Arbor Day occurred on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Community members all across the state of Nebraska came together to plant over 1 million trees! Prizes were awarded to those who were able to plant the most trees properly. In 1874, Governor Robert W. Furnas officially proclaimed Arbor Day, and in 1885 Arbor Day was enacted as a legal state holiday in Nebraska. By 1920, Arbor Day was recognized by 45 states and territories, and in 1970 “Arbor Day” was recognized by President Nixon as a National Holiday. Julius Morton died in 1902, yet today all 50 states and many nations across the globe come together to celebrate the deep roots and expansive canopies trees have to offer, thanks to one man’s passion and communities’ continued shared love for trees.

Arbor Day is usually celebrated on the last Friday of April each year. Here at the Gallatin Conservation District, we gave out trees to community members with conservation projects in mind. The Gallatin Watershed Council is partnering with the City of Bozeman Forestry Council and will be hosting its annual Tree Planting Day. Join them on Arbor Day to help plant and appreciate the powers trees provide! NRCS provides grant funds available to the community for tree plantings, the grant is made available each fall of 2023. If that is something of interest to you, keep your eyes open come fall for the Arbor Day Grant. Plant a tree in your backyard, go for a walk in the woods, or hug a tree this Arbor Day!

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