COURT HOUSE – Cape May County will breathe easier this year, thanks to the efforts of 2,000 children and a local business.
“Trees do more than produce oxygen,” stated Peter Lomax, of the The Lomax Consulting Group in Court House, in a release.
For several years, Lomax has given small trees – referred to as tubelings from the NJ Forest Service Nursery – to students in Cape May County, from Upper Township through the Wildwoods, as a way to celebrate Arbor Day.
Ostensibly, giving children trees to plant is a way to create more oxygen in the county. But more than that, Lomax and his daughter Sofia, see the annual giveaway as a way to encourage young people and their parents to get involved with the environment.
“It’s good for the residents to participate in the stewardship of their community,” stated Lomax.
“This is great for the schools and the community,” stated Middle Township Mayor Michael Clark. “It brings them together. It’s a good opportunity for the kids to learn about nature and learn about how important trees are for the community.”
Nancy Sittineri, economic development coordinator, said the donation of the trees and community involvement with the planting has a wider impact when it comes to applying for state grants. Middle Township, like many municipalities across the state, has a state-approved forestry management plan. Part of adhering to that plan is celebrating Arbor Day and involving some part of the community in planting trees and understanding their importance.
Several years ago, during construction on the Garden State Parkway, thousands of trees were taken down to make way for the removal of the stop lights and building new exits. That’s covered by a No Net Loss state grant which pays for replanting the trees, Sittineri said. Those trees are still being planted around Middle Township, and hundreds of trees will be sited at schools and recreational facilities this year.
“We’re also eligible for Sustainable Jersey grants and forestry grants, because we adhere to the plan,” stated Sittineri.
The grants can cover anything tree related, according to Lomax. Education, planning, siting, and design. If a storm takes down trees in Middle Township, state grants could cover the replacement, because the township has a management plan in place that it abides by.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said his community has taken a proactive approach to all of its wildlife areas, including the trees, and has its own forestry management plan.
“We encourage our residents to protect and enhance the wildlife areas,” stated Rosenello.
Trees play another important role especially in an island community, he said, as they can hold the soil in place along the dunes.
“We recently received notification that we earned a Tree City USA award,” stated Rosenello. The honor comes from the Arbor Day Foundation, and is given to municipalities that celebrate the importance of an urban tree canopy and improve care of city trees.
“Trees are important for our survival,” stated Sofia Lomax, 16, and a Middle Township High School student. “It’s important for everyone to come together as a community to replant trees so we can have a beautiful forest.”
Sofia Lomax produced an Arbor Day video suitable for any audience, but aimed at children in kindergarten through eighth grade, as a way to kick off her own campaign – “Plant a Tree with Me.”
“I wanted to bring out Arbor Day as a community event,” stated Sofia Lomax. “The little kids look up to us so much, and I hope the video fills them with positivity.”
The message of the video is to bring the community together – kids, parents, teachers, friends – to take care of the environment and plant trees. To help cement the message, Sofia Lomax brought the Middletones, a high school a capella group, to sing for the children.
To further the message, Lomax invited local dignitaries to the event, and tried to work within each school’s curriculum.
That fit the bill for Coleen Sexton, a fourth grade teacher at Cape Trinity Elementary School in North Wildwood.
“We just did a unit on being stewards of God’s creation, and this blends right in with that,” she said. “Part of our curriculum is taking care of animals and plants.”
Carol Sell, a sixth grade teacher at Margaret Mace Elementary School, said the trees added yet another facet to environmental education.
“Our sixth grades students will distribute the trees to the students throughout the school,” she said. “That way they take ownership of the project, and that’s a good thing. Also, this spring, we will do an animal project, and that fits in, as trees are a habitat for animals.”
While the fourth grade students at Cape Trinity understood the importance of the trees, for them it was all about the planting, and their own plans for the future.
“I hope to plant my tree in the backyard, but I’ll have to dig it up in the summer when we move,” stated Rebecca Arcui.
“Trees give us oxygen, and they help us with firewood and paper, and paper is good for the school,” stated Jose Nichols.
“My family will help me plant my tree,” stated Catherine Jennings. “But I’ve got plans to make a tree house.”
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