Ever since I was little, I have had a fascination with trees. I spent most of my childhood in Oregon, in a home dwarfed by the six Giant Sequoias growing in the backyard. In front of those sequoias, there were three English walnuts, a Katsura tree, and an assortment of Rhododendrons and Japanese Maples. I am very grateful to have spent my childhood in that forest of a yard. It was a beautiful place that taught me the value of urban forests.
Forests, both natural and urban, carry great importance. Natural forests are a critical part of the planet’s ability to support life. They produce oxygen, sequester carbon, and clean water. When properly managed, natural forests can provide useful and sustainable materials. Natural forests are fun to recreate in too: I for one enjoy hiking, skiing, and camping in them.
Less appreciated are the benefits of urban forests. Urban forests cool our cities down, absorb stormwater, provide animal habitat, and filter the air. Urban forests provide mental health benefits too. They reduce stress, which is a driver of heart disease and strokes, and they reduce depression. Most importantly, urban forests are very accessible. You do not have to travel or sacrifice large amounts of time to reap the benefits of urban forests.
There are many benefits to building an urban forest, but there is also one major caveat. Building an urban forest requires forethought. Urban forests not planted with the future in mind get cut down. Urban forests planted with the future in mind become great community assets.
The person who planted the garden of my childhood home did not think ahead. Those Sequoias are fast growing plants, so eventually some of them will need to be cut down to make room: a costly proposition. If the planter had thought ahead and planted less Sequoias, there would be no need to cut them down because all of the trees would have enough space to grow into.
I now live in Utah, but I can still make a caring change for the better by helping build an urban forest with the future in mind. About a mile from where I live is a botanical garden that offers a “master gardener” course. This course covers in-depth the needs of different species of trees. Some trees like high altitude. Some like wet soil. Others like acidic soil. Some trees, like the Sequoias, will need lots of space. Others will fit in smaller spaces. Information like this is necessary in order to plan ahead when building an urban forest.
With knowledge of what trees need, I would help people in my community take care of their existing trees. I would also help them plant new trees that will live full, healthy lives. Part of that service would be through the master gardener program itself. As part of the course, I would help people with their gardens, both over the phone and on-site. Outside of the master gardener program, I could help my neighbors and friends with their trees. Well maintained and well planted trees make good, long-lasting urban forests.
Urban forests carry great value. However, they must be planted with the future in mind in order to become true community assets. I hope to help build a forest that my community can benefit from for years to come.
By Isaac Hilton, scholarship award winner
UCA’s most recent Scholarship Essay Contest for High School Juniors and Seniors officially ended on November 30, 2020. While the theme has always been to explore ways to make a more caring world, our most recent Essay Contest specifically asked how they would make a more caring world in one of four categories – Children – Animals – Reforestation – Elderly. The winning essays have been posted and awards distributed.
Because there were so many impressive essays submitted from across the U.S., we decided to share many of these students’ inspiring caring actions with you in this publication. Through their essays, the students provide a refreshing insight into their minds and hearts, offering an in depth view of our world that we often overlook. They take us on a journey rich in knowledge, personal experience and creative solutions. It is our hope you will feel as informed and inspired as we do. We are proud to present to you the writings, thoughts and dreams for a more caring future through these articles.