When it comes to the priority of trees in a community, both Millwood and Liberty Lake have made it a point to plant some serious roots.
In Liberty Lake, the commitment began shortly after incorporation in August 2001 when leaders like Mayor Steve Peterson and Council Member Wendy Van Orman spoke to the importance of establishing greenspace as a top priority in the rapidly developing city. Liberty Lake became an official Tree City in 2003, a distinction achieved by meeting standards defined by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.
“Right from the start, there was an understanding that the city had a very good foundation as far as trees and the environment,” said Doug Smith, who has served as Liberty Lake’s director of Community Development since 2001. “As a Tree City, there’s a commitment involved – if it wasn’t a priority, it could get lost.”
That commitment includes establishing a tree board responsible for management of the municipal tree inventory and passing a tree ordinance that outlines policies for planting and maintaining trees throughout a community. A Tree City must also dedicate at least $2 per capita within its municipal budget for a community forestry program. Finally, Tree City regulations stipulate that each jurisdiction set aside time for an annual Arbor Day observance.
“I think the message is the environment is important to residents and their quality of life,” said Van Orman, who moved from her council seat to mayor in 2008. “Once you become a Tree City, not only do you have the value that trees bring but you are also up for many grants that are just an added plus.”
Millwood became the 67th member of the Tree City in Washington state two years ago, joining area cities like Airway Heights, Pullman, Colville and Spokane. Mayor Dan Mork said, at the time, that the designation would continue Millwood’s dedication “to cleaner air and keeping our tree-lined streets.”
Millwood’s Tree and Beautification Board meets on a monthly basis to discuss the city’s community forestry program. On April 30, a tree-planting event was held in Millwood Park just across from an arboretum named for longtime mayor Jeanne Batson. In 1999, Batson set aside two acres near City Hall to be utilized for the project. Dedicated in April 2008, the arboretum features an array of maple, oak, elm and other deciduous trees found throughout the city.
“It’s a nice green area where people can go for a quiet walk,” said Mork shortly after the dedication. “These trees will be here for a long time.”
In Liberty Lake, three acres have been reserved to the west of Country Vista Road for an arboretum still in the works. Land for the project was donated by the Meadowwood Homeowners Association while the final design for the space was completed by students from the landscape architect department at Washington State University.
The $2 per capita obligation translates into a minimum earmark of $16,000 in Liberty Lake’s annual budget although the city spent closer to $20,000 last year in the area of community forestry, Smith said. In Millwood, a town of approximately 1,700 residents, the minimum figure falls around $3,400.
“Trees add so much to the quality of our neighborhoods,” said Millwood City Clerk Tom Richardson, the city’s administrative representative on the tree board. “They add to property value, cool streets off and provide other environmental benefits.”
Van Orman noted that trees in Liberty Lake serve as an insulating layer against heavy winds while Smith said the abundance of foliage is one of the city’s strongest selling points. A number of “Tree City” signs are posted along Liberty Lake streets.
“I think it’s just a communication to residents and to people who visit Liberty Lake that trees are important in this community,” Smith said. “It shows a certain level of commitment to maintaining what we have here.”