By Donald Wittkowski
Mayor Leonard Desiderio said residents made it clear to him that they were tired of seeing the same old scraggly, dying and leafless trees lining the main entryway into Sea Isle City.
He was, too.
But now, the John F. Kennedy Boulevard corridor has been beautified with a whole new crop of trees that will add lush green scenery in the summer and a canopy of brilliant colors in the autumn.
Altogether, 38 trident maples were planted along the JFK Boulevard entrance and 37 sweetbay magnolias have dressed up the Landis Avenue corridor in the downtown business district between 39th and 43rd streets.
City officials and environmentalists celebrated the completion of the $98,000 beautification project Friday afternoon during an Arbor Day ceremony complete with poetry readings and famous quotes about trees.
“He who plants a tree, plants a hope,” Pattiann Ponichtera, the mayor’s assistant, said while quoting a line of poetry by 19th century American poet and author Lucy Larcom.
Abby Powell, president of the Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum, took to the podium at the Community Lodge to recite Joyce Kilmer’s classic 1913 poem “Trees.”
Audience members smiled as Powell spoke the poem’s stirring opening lines, “I think that I shall never see … A poem lovely as a tree.”
Sea Isle’s tree planting project was a collaboration between the municipal government, the city’s Historical Museum, the Environmental Commission and the Garden Club, among other groups. The mayor and other speakers at the Arbor Day ceremony said the effort reflected the city’s community spirit.
“As always, each of those organizations serves as a shining example of the cooperation and harmony that exist in our community,” Desiderio said.
Desiderio elicited nods of approval from audience members when he mentioned the dramatic contrast between the old dying trees that marred the JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue corridors and the eye-catching maples and magnolias that decorate the city now.
“It goes without saying, the end result was very, very impressive,” he noted. “We will be seen as a shining example of a beautiful, tree-lined community.”
During the summer, the new trees will grow “silky green leaves,” providing plenty of shade as well as habitat for wildlife, Desiderio pointed out.
“Then, in the fall, when the sun shines on their beautiful autumn colors, we can reflect on the passing of time with each falling leaf, knowing all the while that even though winter is approaching, spring won’t be far behind,” he added.
The old trees that died were leftovers from the multimillion-dollar “Beach to Bay” beautification of JFK Boulevard, which was completed in 2013. A series of road, landscaping, safety and municipal projects were added to the central corridor stretching from the city’s marina to the beachfront Promenade over a five-year span.
Mike McHale, a local historian and former Sea Isle mayor, explained that the old trees succumbed to the shore’s salt air and strong winds. The new maples and magnolias, though, are salt-tolerant and conducive for the seashore environment.
The first Arbor Day was founded in 1872 in Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton, a newspaper editor who served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. On the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska.
Reflecting on the history of Arbor Day, McHale said that trees “are legacies that must be passed on from generation to generation.”
As billions of trees are lost globally through deforestation and development, people must recognize the importance of trees for providing clean air, clean water and preserving nature, McHale said.
“The idea is that trees are among our most precious resource,” he said.
McHale urged the audience members to plant new trees throughout town. To that end, people attending the Arbor Day celebration were given free tree seedlings to plant at their homes.
Also during the Arbor Day ceremony, representatives from the Environmental Commission distributed ballots for their free Tree Raffle, which is open to Sea Isle residents and property owners only.
The raffle winners will be chosen during a random drawing at the Environmental Commission’s new “Green Fair” at Excursion Park on Saturday, June 8, between noon and 2 p.m. In all, 20 full-size trees will be given out.
“We want to make Sea Isle green,” said Annette Lombardo, chairperson of the Environmental Commission.