ST. MARYS — St. Marys Catholic Elementary School students gathered at Benzinger Park Thursday for an experience that will help them grow.

For at least 10 years, the Shade Tree Commission has been providing each fourth grader in the city of St. Marys with a seedling as part of its annual celebration of Arbor Day, said secretary Cly Hornung.

In school, the students are taught how to plant a tree and the importance of trees to the environment, she said.

“We follow up with the same group of students when they are fifth graders, and we plant a tree in their honor,” Hornung said.

Although Arbor Day was April 26, the students had another obligation, so the planting ceremony was pushed to a late date, she said.

City of St. Marys and Parks and Recreation officials, teachers and others gathered around the Autumn Maple Blaze, which was planted near the park building.

Gail Shturtz, vice chairperson of the STC, opened the ceremony by welcoming everyone. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Forestry Consultant Toby Herzing, who served as the master of ceremonies, followed as the next speaker.

One year, the tree is planted near the South St. Marys Street part of town, Hornung said, and another it’s planted closer to Benzinger Park.

The Arbor Day event sometimes welcomes more than 100 students, who each help to put some dirt or mulch around the tree, Hornung said.

“In 20 years from now when they are grown up, hopefully the students can go back and say ‘When I was in fifth grade, I helped plant this tree,’” Hornung said.

The STC is responsible for more than 650 trees in the city, she said.

“It’s important for students to understand why trees are important, and how they contribute to our environment,” Hornung said. “We want them to appreciate trees.”

In December of next year, the STC will conduct a survey with the students who took the seedlings home, to see how many of them survived, Hornung said.

She recalls hearing some “really cute” stories over the years, Hornung adds, such as children saying someone accidentally ran over the tree with the lawnmower.

The STC also plants trees in honor or memory of someone, she adds. Last fall, a family collected money for their father’s 90th birthday, and wanted to plant a tree in the spring. One was also planted for a current St. Marys sports coach.

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