Students plant red maple outside Athol Community Elementary School

Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski (far right) reads a proclamation declaring April 25, 2024 Arbor Day in the Town of Athol. To celebrate the day, fourth-graders from Athol Community Elementary planted a red maple outside the school.

Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski (far right) reads a proclamation declaring April 25, 2024 Arbor Day in the Town of Athol. To celebrate the day, fourth-graders from Athol Community Elementary planted a red maple outside the school. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Fourth-graders from the class of teacher Ben Ledgard shovel dirt around the red maple sapling planted at Athol Community Elementary School in honor of Arbor Day.

Fourth-graders from the class of teacher Ben Ledgard shovel dirt around the red maple sapling planted at Athol Community Elementary School in honor of Arbor Day. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Fourth-graders from the class of teacher Ben Ledgard shovel dirt around the red maple sapling planted at Athol Community Elementary School in honor of Arbor Day.

Fourth-graders from the class of teacher Ben Ledgard shovel dirt around the red maple sapling planted at Athol Community Elementary School in honor of Arbor Day. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-25-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – Arbor Day was celebrated a day early Thursday morning as fourth-graders from Athol Community Elementary School joined town officials and public works employees for the planting of a tree at the school.

A red maple sapling now graces a strip of green in a section of the school’s parking lot, just feet away from another tree of the same species planted by members of last year’s fourth-grade class.

Assistant Department of Public Works Director Paul Raskevitz led the effort to earn Athol its designation as a Tree City USA, one shared by nearly 3,000 cities and towns nationwide. The program provides communities with a framework for maintaining and growing their tree cover and is overseen by the Arbor Day Foundation.

To qualify as a Tree City, according to Raskevitz, a community must establish a tree board or department, enact a tree bylaw, and adopt a forestry program or department with its own budget. The budget is created by allocating $2 for each resident to the program, which falls under the direction of the Department of Public Works. The budget for the current fiscal year was set at $25,500.

Before taking questions from students, Raskevitz introduced Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, who read a proclamation declaring April 25, 2024 as Arbor Day in the Town of Athol. Suhoski listed the many benefits of planting and preserving trees before concluding, “I urge all citizens – and students – to celebrate Arbor Day, to support the efforts to protect our trees; and I further urge all our citizens to plant trees to gladden the hearts and promote the well-being of this and future generations.”

Raskevitz explained that red maple earns its name from the way its leaves turn a bright red with the arrival of fall. One student asked Raskevitz if the tree being planted is the kind that yields the kind of sap from which maple syrup is made.

“That would be a sugar maple,” he replied. “You could actually get it (syrup) out of this, but it’s not as high in sugar content, so it takes a lot more to boil down.”

Raskevitz said that when the tree reaches maturity it will be about 50 feet tall and have a crown spread of 50 feet. He added that the tree will survive the winter months.

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“But sometimes trees will drink up too much water in the fall,” he said. “If we have a really wet fall, and then they’ll crack in the winter because they freeze.”

While he answered most questions pretty easily, Raskevitz – and everyone else at the event – was stumped when one youngster asked how much oxygen the tree would produce.

Then the time arrived for the official tree planting. Students and some adults each shoveled a spadeful of dirt around the base of the tree.

The next task for the fourth-graders will be naming the tree. They were told that the tree planted in 2023 had been named “Bob” by the previous class. Someone suggested “Bob 2.0,” but it was decided the naming would take a little more discussion.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.