North Dakota Forest Service


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Tracing the Roots of Arbor Day

“Finally, the month of May has arrived in North Dakota! And with that, many communities across the state will be celebrating Arbor Day. The entire month of May is Arbor Month in North Dakota.”

McVille 5th Graders Discover Robins Nest on Arbor Day Walk
Students in McVille discovered this robin's nest full of eggs in a spruce tree on an Arbor Day nature walk.
Arbor Day is a long-standing tradition of celebrating trees across the country, started in 1872 in Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton.   Tree enthusiasts in Dakota Territory hopped on board in 1882 to plant, distributing seeds and seedlings to schoolchildren across the open prairie.  Today, 151 years later, every state celebrates its own officially proclaimed Arbor Day.  Nationally we celebrate Arbor Day on the last Friday in April.  For North Dakota, the official State Arbor Day is the first Friday in May – but communities can name any day as Arbor Day with a mayoral proclamation.

For Tree City USA towns, an annual Arbor Day is required to maintain certification.  North Dakota is home to 53 Tree Cities USA, ranging in size from the state’s largest city - Fargo, population 120,000 - to the smallest Tree City USA currently on record in the nation – Sibley, population 20.  Standards for the program are easily attained:  a tree ordinance, a tree board or department, a forestry investment of at least $2 per capita which can include volunteer efforts, and an annual Arbor Day celebration.

Community Arbor Day events are as varied as the number of communities in which they are celebrated and are scheduled anytime that is convenient, but most celebrations include planting one or more trees.  Many towns celebrate at the local school, and enthusiastic students enjoy getting their hands dirty to help plant a tree.  Carrington Kindergarten students plant a flowering crabapple tree at the city park.  Twelve years later, these graduating seniors gather at the park to take a class photo with their flowering crabapple tree.

North Dakota’s State Arbor Day has been hosted in communities across the state in conjunction with significant reasons to celebrate.  President George H. Bush presented and dedicated an American elm tree located near the Capitol steps in commemoration of the state’s Centennial in 1989.  Events in 2003 and 2004 celebrated the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Northwood (2008), Dickinson (2010) and New Rockford (2019) featured tree-planting recovery efforts following catastrophic tornadoes or wind events in those communities.  Trees were planted at the International Peace Garden (2012) in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts.   Cando (2014) and Watford City (2017) hosted the State Arbor Day to celebrate 25th Anniversaries as a Tree City USA.

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt – known as the Conservation President and the President that North Dakota has adopted as our own – issued an Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States: “It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for in your lifetimes the Nation’s need of trees will become serious.  We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed.”  And another quote: “To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as people, we must have trees.”

If you live in a Tree City USA town, there will be an Arbor Day celebration of some sort.  This year, go out on a limb - show your support and take part.  Grab a shovel and celebrate the beauty and benefits of trees in your community.


By Gerri Makay, Community Forestry Manager, North Dakota Forest Service

For the Trees

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