PIQUA — Pleasant, sunny weather brought hordes of Piqua students outside Friday, trading pencils for shovels.
Forest Hill Cemetery and Arboretum held their annual Arbor Day celebration Friday morning, hosting approximately 300 sixth graders from Piqua Central Intermediate School.
“We just love it,” Jim Roth, superintendent of Forest Hill, said. “Today we’re planting eight trees.”
“What a gorgeous day to come out here and to plant some trees — this is much better than class, isn’t it?” Mayor Kazy Hinds said.
“Yeah!” many students said in response.
Students listened to Linda Raterman of the Miami County Soil and Water Conservancy District as she talked to them about trees and their importance.
“Do you think there are more trees now than in 1816 … 1916?” Raterman asked.
Raterman explained that the entire state was almost completely covered with trees in the early 1800s. By the early 1900s, though, that had changed, and there were far fewer trees. “There are more trees now than in 1903,” she said.
Nearly 30 percent of the state is covered with trees. “So we’re doing great,” Raterman said.
Raterman then went over some quick facts with the students, saying trees produce oxygen, clean the soil, help with noise pollution, slow stormwater runoff, store carbon, clean the air, shade and cool, are wind breaks, help prevent soil erosion, act as habitats, and more.
“What’s the oldest you think trees can get?” Raterman asked. When some students answered with “thousands,” Raterman told them they were correct.
“There’s some trees that go into the thousands,” Raterman said, adding that trees change over time and develop tree rings. “Just like you guys, trees show their age.”
Raterman then held an exercise with the students to show them a little bit about what it would be like to be a tree, having them find a spot on the pavement or grass to stand. After they found a spot, they could not move their feet to represent how trees are stuck where they are and cannot move. Then, adults spread out different-colored popsicle sticks on the ground around the students, and without moving their feet, the students had to try and pick up as many popsicle sticks as possible.
“(A tree) is also subject to everything around him,” Raterman said.
The different colors of the popsicle sticks represented different things, like nutrients, good water, and sunlight.
“Pick up as many as you can without moving your feet,” Raterman said. “Winning here is living.”
Not all of the popsicle sticks represented positive things for trees.
“I’m very sorry, you’ve got an insect infestation,” Raterman said to the students who grabbed orange sticks. To the ones who picked up red sticks, Raterman said, “I’m very sorry, you’ve just got on fire.”
Raterman then had some of the students squat down who did not have the right combination of colored popsicle sticks. To the ones still standing, Raterman said, “You’ve outlived your competition.”
After that exercise, representatives from Unity National Bank, Kyle Cooper and Margo Booser, came to hand out prizes to students who participated in a poster contest. The students were separated into three different tribes, and the winners of those groups were:
• Delaware Tribe — First place, Camilla Nicholas; second place, Desiree Warner; third place, Alyssa Arthur
• Ottawa Tribe — First place, Kendall Darner; second place, Aubree Schrubb; third place, Lauren Hicks
• Erie Tribe — First place, Reagan Toopes; second place, Jalin Cooper; third place, Alison Miller
The winners received cash prizes of either $20, $15, or $10.
The students were then separated into three groups to plant a total of eight trees in three different locations in Forest Hill Cemetery and Arboretum. The students took turns shoveling and planting.
When asked what they learned from participating in the Arbor Day celebration, students remembered many of Raterman’s earlier points.
“Trees, when it floods, help slow down the water,” student Lilla Miller said. “There’s more trees now than in 1903, but less than there was in 1803.”
“I learned that trees … help us breathe and help air pollution,” student Sydnee Hawk said.
Hawk added, along with students Brianna Coy and Charity Griffieth, “Trees are pretty.”
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall