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Oak Park named state’s first municipal arboretum

April 13, 2015 – Decades of commitment to nurturing, diversifying and protecting its urban forest has earned Oak Park recognition as Illinois’ first – and the nation’s fourth – municipal arboretum.

The accreditation was announced in a letter to the Village from Gerard T. Donnelly, Phd., the president and chief executive officer of the venerable Morton Arboretum, which created the accreditation program to encourage knowledge, experience and resource sharing among keepers of tree-focused public gardens.

What makes Oak Park’s accreditation unusual is that it is for the entire Village, rather than for a specific, defined area within a community such as a park.

The Village and Park District of Oak Park submitted a joint application for accreditation through Morton’s ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. Together, the two Oak Park taxing bodies share responsibility for the more than 21,000 trees on public property throughout the Village’s four and a half square miles.

“This is an incredible honor not only for the Village and Park District, but for the entire community,” said Village President Anan Abu-Taleb. “The long-term commitment of taxpayers and elected officials, both past and present, has given Oak Park a wonderful and diverse urban forest. Accreditation from an organization as respected as the Morton Arboretum says we have been doing it right and others have noticed.”

Park District Board President Jessica Bullock added, “The Park District of Oak Park is elated to receive this accreditation in partnership with the Village of Oak Park. This distinction recognizes the importance we place on maintenance of our Village's tree collection, which significantly contributes to the beauty and history of our unique community."

Village Forestry Superintendent Robert Sproule credited Bill Sieck, executive director of The Learning Gardens of Oak Park for bringing the accreditation program to the attention of the Village and Park District.

“Bill’s determination to make all of Oak Park into what he calls a botanic garden speaks to the love of trees that is such an integral part of a shared Village mindset,” Sproule said. “Thanks to Bill’s efforts, and those of his like-minded colleagues, friends and followers, the Village and Park District were able to build upon a long-standing cooperative relationship to earn the respect and recognition of the broader arboricultural industry.”

The Village and Park District will formally acknowledge the arboretum accreditation at an Arbor Day event scheduled for noon, Fri., April 24 in Scoville Park, 800 Lake St. The ceremony will include students from the Green Club at Beye Elementary School planting three saplings grown from the acorns of some of Oak Park’s oldest oak trees.

To be considered for accreditation, an applicant must have more than 100 different species of trees and an identification system. The applicant also must have at least one paid arboretum employee, policies that govern tree care and offer public education programs.

A recent survey of all of the trees on public property in Oak Park played a key role in earning the accreditation, according to Sproule. The species, size and condition of 18,744 trees were catalogued on Village-owned property, and the Park District counted another 2,572 trees on its properties. Together, these trees represent about 130 different species.

Data from the survey soon will be available online so that residents can learn details about specific trees on their parkways and in their neighborhood parks.