Trees are not only pretty to look at, they also are beneficial to the public’s mental and physical well-being as well as the health of communities and their infrastructure.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, urban forests could aid in the reduction of childhood asthma, could promote healthier pregnancies and encourage physical activity.
Additionally, the more tree coverage found in a community, the healthier that community’s infrastructure. Tree coverage has been shown to reduce pavement fatigue, cracking, rutting, shoving and other distress, all of which can extend the life of asphalt and pavement, saving the community repair costs.
Urban forests also can promote economic growth, according to the DNR, by encouraging shoppers and visitors to stay in the area longer and therefore take advantage of the area’s amenities.
That’s why, once a year, the Iowa Urban Tree Council and the DNR recognize individuals, organizations, institutions and communities that are doing their part to grow and maintain healthy urban forests.
This year, two individuals, two organizations, six institutions and 16 cities — many from within the Corridor region — were recognized for their work.
Of the local recipients was Coralville's Native Vegetation Specialist Josh Worrell, who was named Outstanding Professional for his 10 years of dedication to the continuing development of the community’s urban forestry program.
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According to the award materials, Worrell has dedicated his tenure to tree planting, forest conservation and education.
In his work, Worrell is responsible for managing the care of all the city’s trees, green spaces, wetlands, prairies and trail system, and when the emerald ash borer was first discovered in the area, he was instrumental in planning and implementing a response plan.
Most recently, he has taken on the development of Altmaier Family Park, which involves converting a 27-acre farm into naturalized prairie and planting hundreds of trees.
“Josh has shown his commitment to improving the environment by consistently and diligently managing the Forestry Department for the City of Coralville,” the awards materials said. “He is a dedicated employee and a great team member. He strives to support the collective mission of a healthy urban forest.”
Another local recipient was Project GREEN of Iowa City, which was named Outstanding Community Organization.
Project GREEN is a citizen volunteer nonprofit organization that invests in public landscaping projects and promotes environmental awareness in the greater Iowa City area, according to the award materials. The group focuses its efforts on beautifying green spaces, parks, major community entryways, roadsides and median parkways, as well as all public school grounds within the Iowa City Community School District.
Since its founding in 1968, the organization has raised and contributed more than $2 million to complete more than 30 city and county landscaping projects, including the planting and maintenance of hundreds of trees and landscaped areas along Iowa City’s most prominent parkways.
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“It’s a sad story in Iowa that the canopy cover is declining,” said Emma Hanigan, urban forestry coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Invasive insects, disease, trees not being planted at the same rate that they are being removed, I’d say there are a lot of factors contributing to the thinning canopy.
“Trees are important to the well-being of communities,” she added. “That’s one of the reasons we feel it is important to continue to encourage the planting and caring for urban forests. We want to encourage innovation and creativity when it comes to planning and completing projects that will help expand and strengthen urban forests because it’s for the betterment of our communities.”
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