A day ‘as lovely as a tree’

UND leaders grab shovels, plant trees to celebrate new Arbor Day Foundation ‘Tree Campus’ designation

President Armacost delivers remarks at UND’s Arbor Day Celebration on May 11. The event was marked by the planting of five trees. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Mother Nature couldn’t have produced a more perfect day for May in Grand Forks, N.D.

About 50 people from the campus community and beyond gathered on the west side of Hughes Fine Arts Center on Tuesday (May 11) to officially celebrate the University of North Dakota’s recent induction as a Tree Campus Higher Education University by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Greeted by a sunny and near-cloudless blue sky, temps in the mid-60s and an ever-present, though slight-by-North Dakota-standards south wind, the crowd marked the first-ever “Arbor Day” event by planting five different kinds of saplings on a grassy clearing near the pathway leading to the west side doors of UND’s performance and fine arts building.

Before the plantings, UND President Andrew Armacost, Campus Arborist Jared Johnson, Associate Vice President for Facilities Mike Pieper and new Student Body President Kaelan Reedy addressed the gathering.

“As I walk around UND and see the role trees play in enhancing the beauty of the campus and making it a more vibrant space in which to live and work, I remind myself that this doesn’t happen by accident,” said President Armacost. “Without proper planning and management by Jared (Johnson) and his crew, UND wouldn’t be recognized as a Tree Campus Higher Education University. We wouldn’t be surrounded by this beautiful setting.”

From left, UND President Andy Armacost, Student Body President Kaelan Reedy and Peter Johnson, director of Governmental Relations & Public Affairs for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, are among those who helped plant trees in the grassy area just west of the Hughes Fine Arts Center on May 11. The planting was a part of UND’s celebration of Arbor Day. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Johnson, who prepared all the paperwork and submissions for UND to be considered for the Arbor Foundation designation, said it’s important to be vigilant when it comes to the health of campus trees and other plant life. He said the campus is full of older trees that are in declining health, due to pest and disease, threatening other healthy trees and posing safety risks.

“Our biggest goals are to get more diversity on campus for our trees,” Johnson said. “That way if we do ever get a pest specific to a particular kind of tree, and if we have to remove them, we’ll still have plenty more varieties to enjoy.”

Johnson adds that UND’s landscaping department planted around 100 trees in 2020, and plan to plant the same amount this year.

“We’re not just taking trees out for the fun of it because it is a lot of work,” Johnson said. “We also spend a lot of time replacing trees on campus.”

UND Arborist Jared Johnson speaks at UND’s celebration of Arbor Day on May 11. Johnson’s work was instrumental in UND’s winning the Tree Campus Higher Education designation from the Arbor Day Foundation recently. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

On Tuesday, Johnson and crew added five more trees to the campus diversity mix: A pink variety of Norman crab apple; a hot wings tartarian maple, which should bear its signature bright red leaves; a prairie horizon alder, known for its beautiful branching and dark green leaves; a Ponderosa pine, which is native to western North Dakota; and a northern empress Japanese elm, which should produce leaves with burgundy fall colors.

Johnson got some help from President Armacost and First Lady Kathy Armacost, who also was on hand for the celebration.

“When I came to Grand Forks, I was pleased to find a community that was like an oasis of trees in the mostly flat Red River Valley,” said President Armacost. “I noticed this even in the middle of winter. When Kathy and I came to live on campus at University House last June, our first morning here we were greeted by a bucolic view of the sunrise over the tree-lined English Coulee.”

Mike Pieper

Mike Pieper

Associate Vice President for Facilities Pieper said that there are about 6,000 trees across campus that are tracked and evaluated for health through special software.

“The accumulated value of those trees is worth more than some of our campus buildings,” said Pieper, another reason why it’s important to have an arborist, such as Johnson and his team, to manage that value.

“The work that (Johnson) and his team are doing will not only ensure that the campus is beautiful for this generation but also for generations to come,” Pieper added.

Pieper said the trees and the natural beauty of campus are as much a part of the institution as what goes on in the buildings and classrooms. He said plans are in the works to form an active Tree Campus advisory board, which would include staff and faculty. And building upon the work that’s being done with plants and trees, UND Facilities will be working with the city and the county to utilize the English Coulee, which runs through the heart of campus, as a learning and research asset for the UND Biology Department.

“We want our entire campus to be a living learning lab,” Pieper said.

Making his first official public appearance since taking over as UND Student Body President, Kaelan Reedy talked about a commitment to sustainability as one of his big passions. He said the decisions made by University leaders and the work of people such as Johnson, UND’s first dedicated arborist, show the university is just as passionate.

“I’m very proud to say that my University can serve as a shining example to other universities across the nation for what a good sustainable campus looks like,” Reedy said.