LAURINBURG — Students at I.E. Johnson Elementary School stepped away from their classrooms on Friday to learn how to properly care for — and replenish — the source of their textbooks, construction paper and pencils.
“Trees have to be cut down,” Rodney Byrd, arborist and beautification supervisor for the city of Laurinburg, told three classes which had gathered in the school’s gym. “You have to have resources. But, you have to plant them back.”
The city of Laurinburg has been designated as a “tree city” by the Arbor Day Foundation for the past 34 years. According to Neal McRae, with the state Forest Service, that’s no small feat.
“There are only 10 other cities in the nation that have that designation,” he said. “It’s very special for Laurinburg to still be in the program.”
The city plants two trees for each one it removes, Byrd said, in an effort to maintain, if not grow, the total of 8,000 that live within the city’s limits. A popular program revived just last year provides trees for Laurinburg residents free of charge, as long as the tree is planted where it can be seen from the nearest road.
The city has planted a tree every year in recognition of its designation as tree-friendly, but Byrd brought the program to the schools three years ago. A casual ceremony has been held so far at Covington and North Laurinburg, making the program a first for I.E. Johnson.
“We have to get kids to understand how important trees are,” Byrd said. “They’re pretty knowledgeable already, you can tell they’ve been studying trees because they’ve done their homework for sure. I just want them to remember that as they go on … carry it with them their whole life.”
Students were given the important task of keeping the tree watered regularly and keeping the bark — what Byrd called the tree’s “skin” — safe from any punctures that could lead to disease. The maple, Byrd’s favorite tree, will grow up surrounded by decidedly less than exotic varieties which have surrounded the courtyard for an estimated 60 years.
“About the only thing you have to do is keep it watered and it will grow,” Byrd said.