NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Newtown celebrated its trees on May 3 with the help of first and fifth grade students from Goodnoe Elementary School.
Held at Brian Gregg Memorial Park on North Congress Street and organized by the borough's Recreation Board, the town's annual Arbor Day celebration included learning stations, music, games and lots and lots of animals.
Eco-man, Richard McLaughlin, an Arbor Day mainstay, returned this year to lead the children in songs about the environment, including what has become Newtown Arbor Day’s unofficial anthem - “Reduce. Re-use. Recycle.”
This year’s event not only celebrated the trees, it also showcased many of the animals who live in and among the trees, including owls, a giant boa constrictor and lots and lots of worms.
To the delight of the kids, Debbie Kovich (Ms. Debbie) of the Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, introduced them to a possum, a Great Horned Owl and a Screech Owl.
Aark works to rehabilitate injured wild animals with a goal of releasing them back into the wild. “Wild animals belong in the wild, not inside someone’s home,” she tells the wide-eyed kids who hang on her every word.
“This baby is going to go back to the wild when she gets bigger,” she says of the small Great Horned Owl nestled in her hands. “In a week to 10 days I will not be able to hold him anymore because he doesn’t realize the power of the talons he has. When he’s fully gown he will be two feet tall and he’ll have a five to five and a half foot wingspan.”
Meanwhile, at a station set up by the Barn Nature Center, kids let out a unison scream as Kevin Higgins pulled out a large boa constrictor named Rema.
“She is a big girl. She is eight feet eight inches long. That’s me with one of you sitting on my shoulder,” he told the kids. “She thinks I am nothing more than a walking talking tree that gives her food from time to time,” he said as Rema wrapped herself around him. “I have to always remember to put away my sunglasses. She has already broken three pairs.”
The kids let out another scream as Higgins brought out Lizzie, a green iguana. “She is more dangerous than a snake. She lives up in the trees where she enjoys her favorite food - leaves and fruit.”
As Higgins was showing off Lizzie, Rema managed to slither out of her box sending a wave of laughter among the kids and stealing the attention away from Higgins.
“She’s just coming out to say hi again,” says Higgins. “She just wants to know what’s going on.”
At the other end of the park, below a canopy of green, kids were chanting “Om” as Katra Longsdorf of YogaSphere prepared to lead another group through a series of yoga positions.
“How about a cobra pose?” she asks as the kids screamed out in favor. Soon, their little bodies - their backs arched and their heads titled back - were forming a hissing snake.
Longsdorf led the kids through breathing exercises and numerous other animal poses. Earlier they also posed as tall, growing trees with their branches stretched toward the sky, although she said the kids were much more excited by the animal poses than anything else.
Just a few feet away, kids appeared mesmerized as they watched a turtle make its way across the ground. “He likes you,” said one youngster as the turtle zeroed in on one of the kids.
In addition to telling them about turtles, Diane Smith, the director of education at the Audubon Society’s Honey Hollow Education Center in Solebury, also taught them the difference between a frog and a toad.
Newtown Borough resident Bill Salvadore was standing nearby talking about his favorite subject - earth worms - and their importance to the environment. He brought a box filled with compost and worms to give the kids a close look at the dirt and tree dwellers.
“When they dig all those tiny little holes, it helps the rain water get into the ground,” he tells the kids. “They also help fertilize the ground. They love to eat. They eat half of their body weight every day. They are also super strong. They have five hearts, but no eyes and no lungs. And they have been around for millions of years.”
At the end of the two-hour adventure, the kids gathered together on the lawn to continue the celebration of the environment with songs, poster awards and the presentation of the official Tree City USA flag to the borough.
The ceremony was led by Newtown Borough Councilor Nicole Rodowicz and included participation by Mayor Charles Swartz, Council Rock Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser, Sue Sutton of the Newtown Township Parks and Recreation Board, State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, State Rep. Perry Warren and District Judge Mick Petrucci.
With her hand over her heart, Rodowicz opened the ceremony by leading the kids in an Earth Day Pledge followed by a moment of silence in memory of John Davis. Davis was a regular at Arbor Day sharing tree trivia with hundreds of kids over the years.
Next up was State Rep. Perry Warren who had the honor of presenting this year’s Arbor Day proclamation to Newtown Borough Mayor Charles Swartz.
Warren has attended numerous Arbor Day celebrations over the years, first as a Goodnoe father and then as a borough Councilor. “This is a wonderful tradition,” he said, thanking everyone who made the event possible, from the recreation board to the teachers and administrators at Goodnoe School.
Following the proclamations, Dr. Fraser stepped onto the stage to recognize this year’s poster contest winners, presenting each with a certificate and ribbon.
“We have some outstanding student artists who have produced some absolutely gorgeous artwork,” said the superintendent. “And it is my pleasure to honor them here today.”
This year’s winners include Jessica Wu, Emma Sherman and Shayla Schneider representing first grade and Vivi Kim, Lorelei Demskis and Aislinn Leach representing fifth grade. Adeline Joyce received an honorable mention.
Following two Arbor Day songs by the Goodnoe first graders, Richard Deppen, assistant district forester for the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, brought greetings from the state and officially recognized the town as a Tree City.
He unfurled a Tree City USA flag for the kids to see and presented it to Rodowicz and Shade Tree Commission Chairwoman Joan Grozalis.
This is the 35th year that Newtown has been recognized as a Tree City U.S.A., a milestone few communities can claim in Pennsylvania, according to Deppen.
“There are not many communities in Pennsylvania that have 35 years. You guys have done a wonderful job,” said Deppen.
To achieve the Tree City Award, municipalities must meet four criteria - have a Shade Tree Commission, maintain a community tree ordinance, have an annual budget for tree care and maintenance of at least $5600 and hold an annual Arbor Day celebration.
Newtown’s Arbor Day celebration was started by the late Peter A. Chesner who was a long time member of the Newtown Borough Shade Tree Commission. He was responsible for planting the Bradford Pear trees that continue to bloom every spring along historic State Street.
The Arbor Day organizers also joined Sutton in recognizing the students who helped plant two new trees at Roberts Ridge Park that morning donated by Feeney’s Wholesale Nursery.
Sutton presented each with a certificate and commended the students for continuing the 17-year tradition of planting two trees each in honor of Arbor Day at the park.
This year’s trees were planted in memory of John Davis “who made us all laugh and think. He will be missed by all of us,” said Sutton.
Closing out the program, State Sen. Steve Santarsiero congratulated the borough on its 35th year as a Tree City and introduced the fifth grade students who sang about the environment.
As a reminder of their Arbor Day experience, each of the youngsters were given their very own lavender and rosemary plants to take home and plant in their yards.
The Newtown Rotary Club donated funds to purchase the plants and handed them out to the youngsters at the Arbor Day celebration.