In honor of the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, the Park District of Oak Park has planned its biggest celebration yet of the national tree-centric holiday. Join the park district on April 29 for a full day of free, fun and educational activities with plenty of giveaways.

The festivities will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at four different locations – Taylor, Maple, Scoville and Carroll Parks, as well as at the Oak Park Conservatory. By having events at multiple spots, the park district intends to make it convenient for all Oak Parkers to attend, regardless of where they live. 

“We have never done anything like this throughout the district with so many parks involved,” said park’s spokesperson Ann Marie Buczek. 

As Arbor Day falls on a Friday this year, the event was planned to suit the school schedules of children. The morning will feature activities for the younger set. The adventures geared toward older children will take place in the afternoon after school dismissal. While being fun, the activities will also educate children on the importance of conservation.

“I found that kids get really interested, really excited learning about nature,” said Hannah Szuch, the park district’s nature and adventure supervisor.

Attendees can expect scavenger hunts, games, crafts and even tree stories. Not to be confused with readings of the Shel Silverstein classic “The Giving Tree,” tree stories is a kid-friendly term for interpreting the rings in a tree’s trunk, otherwise known as dendrochronology. Thicker rings occur when the tree had a better growing year; thinner rings denote years where the tree had little water, according to Szuch.

“You can really read a tree’s history from the rings,” said Szuch. “Its age, but also what happened in its life.”

Park district staff and volunteers will be on hand at each site to give tree tips and answer questions. Special guests will also be in attendance. Members of the village of Oak Park’s Environment and Energy Commission will be stationed at certain sites, gathering residents’ input on sustainability and climate change. The village’s sustainability coordinator, Marcella Bondie Keenan, will be attending as well.

“I’m excited to partner with the park district on this. Hopefully it’s the first of many collaborations,” said Bondie Keenan.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has donated over 100 oak saplings for the event. Stationed at Taylor Park, MWRD representatives will be giving away the baby trees to those who would like to plant them. MWRD is also providing free, high-quality compost and coloring books for kids.

The Oak Park Public Library’s Book Bike is stopping by Scoville Park, While Sugar Beet Food Co-op will be posted at Maple Park. The local grocery store is offering tastings of foods and drinks that come from trees that grow in that very park. No tree nuts will be passed out to ensure the safety of those allergic. However, self-described tree nut Szuch will be there. 

Of course, the park district will also be planting a tree as it does every year for Arbor Day. An American Hornbeam has been chosen and will be planted in Carroll Park at 1 p.m. The American Hornbeam is a hardwood species native to the Chicago area that is resistant to many pests. Kids will be invited to help shovel the dirt over the roots of the newly planted tree to show them that conservation is something they can play a direct part in.

“Doing stuff locally can show them that it’s not just things far away, like the rain forest or the ice caps, that are important,” said Szuch. “It’s also conservation right here at home and they can actually make a difference.

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