Missouri Department of Conservation resource forester Travis Mills, left, and City of Houston public grounds department supervisor Joe Kirkman stand next to three trees that will be among five planted at Emmett Kelly Park to replace some that died following a major tree-planting operation at the park a few years ago. The MDC purchased the trees for the city. The trees shown are, from left, a bald cypress, a Shumard oak and a London planetree.

Not all of the 55 trees planted in Emmett Kelly Park survived following a joint operation between the City of Houston and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in 2012.

But the MDC has now purchased replacements for the five that died for various reasons, and three of them will be in the ground this week, weather permitting (a Shumard oak, a bald cypress and a London planetree), while two more will be planted in November (both redbuds).

The project four years ago was made possible by MDC’s help in Houston’s acquisition of about $7,000 through a “TRIM” grant (Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance). It was designed to upgrade the park’s landscaping by removing about 26 trees that that were either dying of old age or had sustained wind or lightning damage, while placing many more in areas void of shade.

MDC resource forester Travis Mills was instrumental in the project, and is not surprisingly a big proponent of trees. He and his Houston-based crew manage tens of thousands of acres of forested land in Texas County.

Mills said he would like to see citizens in incorporated Texas County communities get involved in an Arbor Day Foundation program called Tree City USA, which is billed as “a nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees.” The program is designed to guide towns and citizens toward improving tree management in terms of growth, care and maintenance.

“I’m not sure a lot of people are aware of all the good things trees provide,” said City of Houston public grounds supervisor Joe Kirkman. “And it’s a renewable resource.”

Getting a Tree City USA program started requires the formation of a “tree board” comprised of at least two individuals, and the adoption of a city ordinance.

“That lines out a plan,” Mills said, “or provides protocol and standard operating procedures.”

Another requirement of Tree City USA status is staging some sort of annual Arbor Day event.

“And that wouldn’t necessarily have to be on its own,” Mills said. “It could be correlated with something else.”

Lastly, at least $2 per capita must be spent on “urban forestry.”

“But the city can do that by what they do already,” Mills said. “Labor can be counted, and lots of other things. Basically, meeting the requirements is what every community should already be doing with trees anyway.”

Mills said he would be glad to help anyone interested in beginning a Tree City USA effort in Texas County.

“I’d love to see some people get excited about this,” Mills said. “I can’t do it single-handedly, but urban forestry – as well as rural – is part of our mission, and we will advise people to the best of our ability.”

Mills said that since Houston is the county’s business hub and county seat, he would like to see the town take a lead role with regard to Tree City USA.

“But I’d like to see the other towns in the county get involved, too,” Mills said, “and we’ll help anyone who’s interested get started. It sounds daunting and overwhelming, but it’s really not. It can be done, and it’s a good idea to have parameters.”

The positive effects trees have on a community is well documented and wide-ranging – they improve an area’s ground water-retention, increase shade, add beauty and more. Industry is even attracted to communities with good urban forestry practices, Mills said, and a given tract’s property value is significantly higher if trees are present.

Kirkman said education is needed with regard to trees, and the foundation’s program would help promote that.

“Like Joe, I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how much trees bring to their lives,” Mills said. “Because this program has to do with trees, it affects a lot of people, and I really believe this would be something really good for Houston and other towns in this county.

“And think about it: We live in place with rivers are named after trees and where a community is nicknamed ‘Timber Town.’ Trees are important everywhere, but they’re also a big part of this area’s history and heritage.”

Mills can be reached by phone at 417-967-3385.


According to 2015 Arbor Day Foundation statistics, 88 Missouri communities had earned Tree City USA status, including the state’s biggest city, Kansas City, and tiny towns like Augusta (population 225). Ohio was listed as having the most Tree City USA communities, with 247, and at 37 years and counting, Mexico was Missouri’s longest running Tree City USA community as of last year.

Nationwide, there were close to 3,500 Tree City USA communities, including New York City and Chicago. For more information, log onto www.arborday.org/programs/treeCityUSA/index.cfm.

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