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Roswell deepens its Tree City USA roots

Containers holding about 1,200 tree seedlings await their prospective owners as volunteers from the city and several local organizations distribute the free greenery during Roswell’s 31st annual Arbor Day event, held this year at Cielo Grande Recreation Area. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The cars — and a bicycle or two — began lining up early on Saturday morning at Cielo Grande Recreation Area to participate in a time-honored and popular tradition in the city, the annual Arbor Day tree seedling giveaway.

In spite of overcast and chilly weather in the morning, the city’s 31st annual event brought out hundreds to pick up the trees intended to help the environment and beautify the area. Due to COVID-19 and its restrictions, the event was held as a drive-thru giveaway for the second year.

Ruben Esquivel, the city’s arborist and superintendent of South Park Cemetery, said the event has been popular for the 20 years he has participated. He thinks so many people show up each year, no matter the weather, not only to support the city’s efforts but because of the seedlings chosen for them.

“We give you the right selection, species of tree plants, because we do either natives or we do well-adapted,” he said. “The trees that we give you are going to grow in our area.”

Esquivel was often called by residents to answer questions about the types and characteristics of seedlings, or what he would recommend.

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“Are you looking for a shade tree?” he asked one person. “Ask them for a juniper, or maybe a walnut.”

Each vehicle could receive up to two seedlings, with about 1,200 plants of 12 varieties available at the start of the event: little leaf sumac, desert mountain mahogany, bur oak, New Mexico forestiera, Palmer’s penstemon, pecan, Rocky Mountain juniper, fernbush, Arizona walnut, Texas red oak, netleaf hackberry and golden currant.

The Friends of the Spring River Zoo also donated 250 pine cone bird feeder kits.

Esquivel said that the annual giveaway is part of what qualifies the city to be a Tree City USA. Roswell leads the state for having the longest continuous time with the national designation.

“Let’s keep leading the state,” said Esquivel, “We have 31 consecutive years, and let’s keep it going.”

Esquivel recommended that people plant the seedlings as soon as they get home, and Thalia Pantoja, the city’s marketing coordination who also serves as a liaison to the Keep Roswell Beautiful organization, said the group has a video with planting and care tips posted at www.facebook.com/keeproswellbeautiful/.

Pantoja said she was pleasantly surprised to see another long line this year, saying that people began showing up before 8 a.m. for the two-hour giveaway that started at 9 a.m.

“I just hope that whenever we move back to a come-in-person model and not a drive-thru model that people will feel just as enthusiastic and excited about it,” she said.

Pantoja said a New Mexico Clean and Beautiful grant paid for the seedlings and other supplies, which come from the New Mexico Forestry Department, although the cost of the trees was not immediately known. Staffing was provided by volunteers from the city’s Parks Department, Public Affairs Department and cemetery, as well as from community organizations such as Keep Roswell Beautiful, the Roswell High School National Honor Society, the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the Pecos Valley Iris Society.

Ricardo Valenzuela came to the giveaway for his second year, this time on his bicycle.

“Maybe they will grow this year,” he said, explaining only one tree from last year is still alive. “The other one I mowed down, ran over with the lawn mower. Kind of stunted its growth.”

If people did not get a seedling this year, the event will be held again next year about the second or third week of April, Pantoja said. It is scheduled each year to be between the New Mexico Arbor Day Celebration, which is the second Friday of March, and National Arbor Day, which is the last Friday of April, according to the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation.

New Mexico had 11 towns and cities designated as a Tree City USA as of June 2020, according to the foundation. Nationally more than 3,400 have received the certification. To make the list, communities have to meet four standards established by the foundation and the National Association of State Foresters: They must have a person or board responsible for tree care; they must have an ordinance regarding tree care; they must spend at least $2 per capita on an annual basis for tree planting, removal and care; and they must hold an annual Arbor Day event.

The Arbor Day Foundation began its work in 1972 to plant trees worldwide and to raise awareness about the importance of trees. According to its website, trees provide many public benefits. Those include removing one-third of fossil fuel emissions from the air on an annual basis from 1990 to 2007; improving the health and mental well-being of residents; preserving wildlife habitats; reducing storm runoffs, soil erosion and flood damage, thereby helping to clean water supplies; cooling surfaces and the air by providing shade and through water vaporization off of leaves; reducing energy usage; and increasing property values.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.