Tree Lovers Unite Bringing Recognition to Local Universities and Southwest Missouri Towns

Apr 28, 2015

Trees not only contribute to the aesthetics of a community, they provide so much more.  And area cities and organizations know this:  Drury University received a first time recognition as a Tree Campus, while Springfield and West Plains have continued to maintain Tree City USA titles.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talks with local arborists to learn more about what it takes to achieve this type of recognition and why this is so important.

Joseph Fearn, head groundskeeper at Drury University
Credit Theresa Bettmann / KSMU

Joseph Fearn is head groundskeeper at Drury.  His passion for what he does is evident as he talks about his goals for the university’s landscaping. While driving around the Drury Campus, Fearn explains his overall plan is to gradually convert the acres of turf into landscapes that are more sustainable, functional and beautiful.  The idea is for the landscape at Drury to become a mutually supportive ecosystem for human, insect and animal life.

Part of this mission includes the many trees that have been added to the campus and one of the reasons why Drury was recently named for the first time as one of seven Tree Campuses in Missouri.  

“We’ve planted over 200 trees on campus, and for a 35 to 40 acre campus 200 trees is a lot. And so every year we continue to plant and that is mandated by the program.  As a member of Drury, it gives me a lot of pride to say we’re a Tree Campus—it’s pretty prestigious,” says Fearn.

Requirements to be considered for a Tree Campus include having a comprehensive tree plan that provides protection and a planting regime, identifying expenditures and providing community awareness and education, explains Fearn.  

“Grounds is not divorced from the overall organization [Drury University]—we need to be enmeshed in it.  And what I find really exciting is going to people who may not be enamored of the grounds and making them allies,” Fearn says.

Drury students are an integral part of what happens on the grounds, says Fearn, which is why he reaches out to students from multiple disciplines to help form the vision for the campus. 

Ted Boland is a junior studying finance at Drury.  He says he stumbled into his connection with grounds and has become passionate about the mission.  He is now with the Grounds and Ecology Club, or GLEE, and also the campus landscape advisory board. Boland says it is all about bridging the gap between grounds and students.

“The reason we’re here is not only to get an education, but to walk around campus and really have a great college experience.  And that’s what they’re here for whether it’s planting flowers or trees, just making the campus look beautiful so  our four years or five years  here are as good as they can be,” Boland shares.

Fearn says not only is partnership with students critical, but also with the city of Springfield.  He says Drury arborists and the city’s urban foresters work together to enhance the city’s landscape.

Casey Killner is an urban forester with the city of Springfield. She says Springfield just celebrated its 30th consecutive year as a Tree City USA, which is a special milestone. 

“We wanted to do a really large celebration in honor of that 30 year commitment that the city of Springfield has made.  We put together a tree planting relay and called it ’30 for 30’,” says Kellner.

The recent celebration wrapped up with the 30th tree, a Hawthorn tree, planted on the Square.  She says the needs for the sites and the benefits certain types of trees provide for those locations were kept in mind when choosing what species to plant.

Hawthorne Tree planted on the Square in Springfield--the 30th tree planted as part of the Tree City USA 30th Year recognition celebration.
Credit Theresa Bettmann / KSMU

West Plains is another local community that continues to receive the Tree City USA title.  It has received that designation since 2011, according to Michael McMahon, storm water technician with the City of West Plains. He explains that requirements for the award include having a tree board, hosting an Arbor Day event, providing spending guidelines and having a tree care ordinance.

“We’re big on the idea of what you might call ‘good housekeeping.’ By that there are times we have to trim trees or cut down trees due to electrical lines and safety.  Well on the other hand of that though we also want people to know  we try to plant new trees as well as the right trees in the right location—because we are all for the trees,” says McMahon.

Fearn, Killner, and McMahon all agree that trees have value beyond their beauty such as cleaning the air and filtering pollutants from water.  Killner adds that research shows urban areas with more trees and green space have reduced crime and increased safety.

“The tree doesn’t just do one thing, it does a multitude of things for our community…and all it does is stand there,” shares Kellner.

From here, each of these tree enthusiasts and experts wish to increase community awareness as they continue to reforest and protect the local tree population.