The Pender park has been in existence since the origin of the town. The health of trees in the public park had been neglected for years. In the late 60s and early 70s Dutch Elm disease brought the demise of numerous established trees. There were trees that were old and damaged creating a liability issue. The replacement of trees with a variety of species was not being done. It was obvious our park needed a plan for improvement. At the same time the need for new landscaping in several community areas was desired.
In 1991 the Pender Village Council concluded that some sort of leadership was needed with the mission to develop and administer a comprehensive tree management program for the public areas which in turn would serve as a model for private residents. After all community tree resources are assets that need to be managed and cared for just as any other part of the community infrastructure (power, water, sanitation etc.) So the Pender Tree Board was formed when six community volunteers came forward to be appointed by the Village Council. All six remain on the board today and are Wanda and Ron Kelly, Dr. Mike and Pat Sharp and Bill and Maureen Wenke. A few years later Kent and Colleen Weborg joined the group. Wanda Kelly assumed leadership of the Tree Board when it was formed and remains the key person by spending countless hours spearheading forestry projects throughout our town.
At an early stage the board sought professional help from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA), which is in close partnership with the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and Nebraska Forest Service (NFS). The board continues to use the resources these organizations provide by attending and hosting public tree care workshops; attending seminars at conferences to obtain information that is shared here at home; obtaining design plans for our numerous public landscaped areas and for grant funding sources.
In 1992 the Nebraska Forest Service was invited to do a community tree assessment—species diversity was evaluated, planting needs and hazardous trees were identified along with insect and disease problems. A plan for regular tree care such as pruning and watering was discussed. The Tree Board then set short-term and long-term goals and objectives. A second tree inventory was completed in 2002 by NFS which clearly indicated that in just 10 years great strides had been made. A third assessment will take place in a couple of years.
In 1994 the Pender City Council endorsed a “tree ordinance.” The “tree ordinance” gives clear guidance for planting, maintaining and removing trees from streets, parks and other public places.
In the 19 years since the formation of the Tree Board, numerous greenscapes have been impacted by their endeavors. Landscaping and restoration at the Memorial Park and the City Park are areas that residents and visitors alike have come to enjoy. The board assumed leadership in the design and completion of plantings at Pender Community Hospital, Pender Mercy Medical Clinic, Heritage Musuem of Thurston County and around the new water tower. They joined forces with the Pender Betterment Group to complete three “Welcome to Pender” entrance areas, the street tree project on Main Street plus the planting of several trees at the southeast section of the Dike. A most recent effort was in planning, fund acquisition and completion of the Restorative Gardens at Pender Care Centre.
Obviously growth and public improvements require funds. The city supports their community forestry program with an annual budget of about $2 per capita. At first, this may seem like an impossible barrier to the community. However, with a little investigation it was revealed that more than this amount was already being spent by the municipality on its public areas. With wise management plans these dollars are now spent more efficiently.
Major funding has come from various environmental grants. The Tree Board has been very successful in seeking, making application and receiving such gifts. Most grants have to be matched by local funds. So Pender village monies are combined with those from generous private donors and businesses to leverage grant funding. To date $84,000 has been received by the Village in grants from America the Beautiful, Small Business Administration, NSA, Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District and Lutheran Brotherhood. In the time frame from 1992-2009 private donations and memorials now total over $20,000.
Early on the Tree Board implemented the “Memorial Tree Program.” Many of the public trees and some smaller landscaped areas are named as a living memorial to loved ones. An attractive plaque indicates the loved one and donor.
Maintenance and nurturing of all these public areas is ongoing. The Village employees do a superb job for some of the care, however, cannot and are not expected to do everything. Employees at the entities who host some of the areas such as the hospital, museum, and medical clinic assume responsibility. Yet, there is need several times a year for the Tree Board to call upon numerous community volunteers with gardening skills and interest in maintaining these gardens. There are two special groups of young people who must be recognized. They are the Pender Betterment Group and the members of the Pender Future Farmers of America. Both groups are young, energetic with strong backs and have a sincere interest in their environment. Several times a year they come forward to do the really strenuous jobs such as planting, mulching and general seasonal clean-up.
While the organization has been in existence for nearly two decades, the Pender Tree Board’s mission of “fostering a more progressive tree care program which in turn creates public awareness of the importance of a healthy community tree environment” does not end here. After all an effective community forestry program is an ongoing process of renewal and improvement—a program of tree planting and care that will continue for years to come.