116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — When city arborist Mike Cimprich got an email last week announcing he was the recipient of the Merrell Changing Nature of Work Award, he had to read it a few times to believe it.
“When I went back through and read it for the last time, really carefully, I didn’t know whether to start screaming and celebrating or what,” Cimprich said
He was chosen as the inaugural recipient of the award from the National Recreation and Park Association. The award recognizes an individual, or team, who has responded to natural disasters with a spirit of teamwork, community and perseverance to clean up, rebuild and advance the resilience and well-being of their community.
It comes with $10,000 to go toward a project. Cimprich said it would go toward tree replanting in some way, whether that’s obtaining more staff or equipment or the actual tree planting itself.
Marion lost over 40 percent of its public tree canopy in the August 2020 derecho. Cimprich was integral in leading the response.
Cimprich and his team initiated an inventory of the community’s tree population, which served as the foundation for everything from securing contractors to quantifying debris and to tracking the number of stump removals.
“We’ve had a lot of awareness and attention locally on derecho response even though we’re a few years after,” Cimprich said. “But to be recognized on that national level sets it above everything else for sure. It's not just me but the parks and rec department and urban forestry division. To bring some of that focus to our organization and community as a whole feels really good. We wouldn't be where we were right now if we didn't pull together as one big team.”
The road to recovery isn’t over. In 2022, about 1,500 trees have been planted in partnership with Monarch Research, Trees Forever and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Cimprich said that many will be planted again in 2023. So far, he has secured over $110,000 in grant funding toward the efforts.
“We’ve made an effort to catch back up and we're on pace to do it in the next five-10 years and have a strong canopy,” Cimprich said.
Parks and Recreation Director Seth Staashelm, who nominated Cimprich for the award, said Cimprich embodies Marion’s motto of ‘Reach Higher.’
“The recovery from the disaster presents opportunity to experience greatness from those that will rise to such an occasion and we are seeing that with Mike, his team, and all the partners in the efforts to improve the city’s canopy and urban ecosystem,” Staashelm said.
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