The public works department planted a tree outside Field Stevenson School on Friday, April 30, in celebration of Arbor Day and the village receiving the official Tree City USA designation. | Alex Rogals, Staff Photographer

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Commissioner Jessica Voogd read that quote, believed to be an ancient Chinese proverb, at the planting of a tree on Arbor Day, April 30, outside Field Stevenson School at 925 Beloit Ave.

The tree, a China Snow Peking Lilac, was planted by the village’s public works department, with retiring Director John Doss and incoming Director Sal Stella present. Also attending the ceremony were Village Administrator Tim Gillian and commissioner Joe Byrnes, in addition to some D91 students, Principal Tiffany Brunson and Assistant Principal Eric Beltran.

Just prior to planting a tree at the school, the village had raised a flag at Veteran’s Park (across from the dog park). It’s a white flag with the blue and green logo depicting a tree and the words: “Tree City USA. An Arbor Day Foundation Program.”

An Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA flag was raised at Veteran’s Park on April 30. | Photo courtesy of Commissioner Jessica Voogd

The raising of the flag and planting a tree outside a D91 school were a celebration not just of Arbor Day but also of the village earning its official Tree City USA designation, a process driven by Voogd. At the Feb. 22 village council meeting, she announced that the village had completed all the steps required by the Arbor Day Foundation. She said Doss and Gillian had been instrumental in working with her to accomplish the necessary work throughout the process.

The Arbor Day Foundation lists four standards a village must meet in order to receive national recognition, which has been around since 1976: having a tree board or department; putting into place a tree care ordinance; a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita; and an Arbor Day proclamation and observance.

Forest Park’s village council voted to adopt a tree care ordinance in October 2019 and issued an official proclamation of Arbor Day at a January 2020 meeting.

The final step involved an official Arbor Day observance. Plans originally were for a big community event, including the involvement of Forest Park’s elementary school district and the park district, but COVID-19 prevented a large gathering.

 Instead, a bur oak tree, donated by McAdam Landscaping, was planted by the public works department and the Park District of Forest Park in front of the park district’s main building on April 24, 2020.

“I’m so proud of this achievement as we work to protect and honor the impact our trees have on our village’s aesthetic health, stormwater management, and property values, just to name a few things,” Voogd said during the Feb. 22 village council meeting.

“[The designation] means we’re taking action to encourage better care of our community forest,” said Voogd. “We all benefit from cleaner air, shadier streets and the aesthetic beauty a well-maintained urban forest provides. This acknowledgement of our commitment … it helps to increase public awareness of the social, economic and environmental benefits of our efforts.”

The designation, she added, is something in which the community can take pride, joining over 3,400 other Tree City communities, and it can help improve the village’s access to and success with future grant opportunities.