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New Port Richey celebrates 25th Arbor Day

Published:   |   Updated: January 23, 2014 at 11:35 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY — Betty Black has been planting trees in New Port Richey since the old Recreation and Aquatic Center building, replaced by the current one in 2007, was “held together with scotch tape and bubble gum,” Black said.

Black, now 83, is one of a few original participants in New Port Richey’s Arbor Day celebration, which celebrated 25 years last Friday. Presentations were made by the New Port Richey Garden Club, members of the city staff and city council, the city’s Environmental Committee and the fourth-grade class at Genesis Elementary School. Five new trees were planted in the Peace Learning Garden in Sims Park.

Black watched as the students placed a young persimmon tree in the ground and packed dirt tightly around the tree’s thin trunk. She smiled.

“It’s time to let the young ones take over now,” Black said. “We used to be the young ones.”

All states in the U.S. have an official Arbor Day observed at a time of year that has the correct climatic conditions for planting trees. Many states celebrate in April, but the official day in Florida is the third Friday in January.

New Port Richey has planted trees during an official Arbor Day celebration since 1989 when attendees planted crape myrtles, cypress tress and live oaks on the east side of Orange Lake. Many of those trees now tower over 30 feet.

“Those 25-year-old trees, and these young trees today, are the very embodiment of our dreams for a cleaner, greener, healthier world,” said former City Councilman Dell deChant in his speech.

“They are being planted in a community that is uniquely committed to their survival. Imagine that. A place in Florida where trees are treasured as gifts and friends of people, not things that are just in the way and are better off removed for commerce and construction.”

New Port Richey has been designated as a “Tree City” for 23 years, joining more than 3,400 communities around the country in the Tree City USA program, which is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

Tree cities receive direction, technical assistance, public attention and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in the community to foster pride and a positive self-image. Holding an annual Arbor Day event is a requirement to be a Tree City.

Before the city committed to planting and caring for trees on a regular basis, deChant said the city was “barren, sterile and unwelcoming.”

Now, the city can boast five new trees — a fruit-bearing tree called aloquat, two persimmon trees and two fig trees. They were planted in the garden at Peace Hall in downtown New Port Richey, which was started by volunteers three years ago.

“We share what we grow here with everybody,” said Denise Houston, the garden’s manager and Master Gardener.

Last year’s Arbor Day event included planting several live oak trees around Orange Lake. The city also recently finished its downtown “Tree Replacement Project,” removing dying trees and replacing them with lavender crape myrtles, drake elms and sabal plans, as well as Indian hawthorne shrubs.

“Imagine how different this city would look without the tress that now line our streets and have grown large and lush in the past two decades, deChant said.

Follow Dalina Miller on Twitter @DaylinaMiller