Imagine moving from the lust, green forests of the Northeastern United States to the Nebraska prairie in 1854. Imagine convincing enough people to plant one million trees and getting a spring day set aside to plant trees. Well that is exactly what J. Sterling Morton did in 1872. After moving to the Nebraska Territory in 1854, Morton, a journalist and editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper began to share his love and enthusiasm for trees with a receptive audience. His fellow pioneers missed their trees and needed them for windbreaks, fuel, building materials, and shade from the hot prairie sun.
Morton wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and the interrelatedness of life. He encouraged everyone to set aside a specific day to plant trees. In 1872, the State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10, Arbor Day and offered prizes to the counties and individuals that properly planted the largest number of trees on that day. More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.
Shortly after the 1872 observance, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day each year. By 1920, more than 45 states and territorial possessions were celebrating Arbor Day. In Pennsylvania, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday of April.
While most holidays celebrate something that has already happened and is worth remembering, Arbor Day reflects a hope for the future. The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and, some day, provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.
Today, thousands of schools and communities across the nation hold Arbor Day celebrations. Make a point of celebrating Arbor Day this year with your family. Plant a tree somewhere on your property and care for it. It will turn into a day your family will always remember.
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