‘Tree city USA’

When the first settlers came to the place we know as the Hillsboro area, people would travel for miles to sit under a tree, according to Richard Wall, a natural science professor at Tabor, history buff and member of the Hillsboro Tree Board.

What a difference a century makes.

Through the work of the tree board and other individuals interested in the benefits trees offer, Hillsboro in 2000 is formally known as a ?Tree City USA.?

Even if such a designation existed in the 1870s, this area was about as far from qualifying as it could have been.

?When the settlers first came here there were no trees at all,? Wall said. ?The diaries we read tell there were no trees anywhere, not even along the streams.?

South of town though, was at least one big cottonwood tree, where settlers would meet to sign papers and do business.

Wall said all of the trees in Hillsboro have been planted since the town was formed.

American elm trees were an early favorite in Hillsboro, but virtually all of them died of Dutch elm disease.

To prevent such a recurrence, around 20 to 30 years ago people became interested in making sure Hillsboro had a variety of trees. Within the last decade, the Hillsboro Tree Board was formed.

On of the key aims of the board tries is to encourage people to plant a variety of trees.

?We?re trying to diversify and make sure people plant a variety of trees, so if some disease comes around again we wouldn?t lose so many of our trees,? Wall said.

To help encourage a diversity, the tree board offers discount coupons that enable homeowners to buy certain kinds of trees for less money. The types of trees available rotate each year.

?We?re still increasing our variety,? Wall said.

To keep track of trees in Hillsboro, the Tree Board has completed ?tree surveys? of the city. The last survey was completed a couple of years ago.

When doing the survey, board members, accompanied by a forester, drive every block in town to identify the types of trees and evaluate their height and health. The survey includes every tree in front yards, but not all in the back yards because they cannot always be seen.

?We really have a pretty good idea of what kind of trees we have, how big they are and what shape they are in,? Wall said.

It?s been interesting how the species change over the years, he added.

?The object, of course, is to get a good variety of trees that aren?t going to have a lot of insect or disease problems,? Wall said. ?So that?s what we?ve been trying to encourage in the last eight to 10 years.?

Each year, the importance of trees is underlined with the proclamation of Arbor Day.

Arbor Day, which began in 1872, was proclaimed as March 31 at a recent city council meeting by Mayor Delores Dalke.

The occasion was first observed with the planting of more than a million trees in Nebraska. Trees are no longer planted on Arbor Day in Hillsboro, but it is celebrated with a poster contest for fourth-grade students.

?Everybody takes trees for granted pretty well,? Wall said. ?It is nice to think about it, especially when you are younger.?

Trees offer a number of benefits to residents, he said: shade, beauty, reduced erosion of topsoil, more moderate temperature, and a wind break.

?You certainly notice it?s not nearly as windy in town,? Wall said. ?The trees really help break the wind.?

In addition, trees provide paper, wood for homes, and fuel for fires. They also increase property values.

The board currently is working on planting trees in Hillsboro Heights.

In the past, it has been involved in planting trees in the Tabor College Park and the local sports complex.

Today, when someone looks down from the vantage of a small plane, Hillsboro looks like a small forest on the prairie.

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