Urbana was the first Illinois community to receive the “Tree City USA” designation in 1976, the program's inaugural year. With more than 12,000 street trees, 6,000 park trees, and 100,000 privately owned trees, the city takes great pride in maintaining these valuable community assets. Not only are trees environmental and aesthetic treasures, they are also a part of the rich history of Urbana.
"Tree City USA" was created in 1976 as a joint bicentennial project of the National Arbor Day Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters in response to the need for better local tree care. The Tree City USA program provides the national framework for community forestry management. Communities must meet four core standards of urban forestry management to achieve Tree City USA status: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day.
Illinois is among the foremost states in the nation for community involvement in the Tree City USA program, and among those communities Urbana sets an unparalleled standard. Since becoming a Tree City, Urbana has received numerous Growth Awards, recognizing higher level of tree care beyond the four standards required for Tree City USA designation. In 2014 the City of Urbana established the Legacy Tree Program to celebrate notable community trees. Residents can nominate a tree for Legacy Tree status, which is based on characteristics such as size, rarity, history, age, location, aesthetics, and special ecological value. Urbana also created Illinois' first landscaped median interstate exchange at I-74 Lincoln Avenue.
Bruno Schielzeth, Urbana's first City Arborist, paved the way for the city's urban forestry program. In 1975, the street tree population was comprised of thirty percent Silver Maple trees and fifty percent undesirable, weak-wooded trees such as Siberian Elms. Urbana's early mission was to remove and replace these trees, establishing a 50/50 cost-share tree planting program between homeowners and the city. In addition, a tree care ordinance was created, and a community tree inventory and annual maintenance program were born.
In the 1990s, an ice storm and a severe drought created an opportunity for Urbana to establish a scheduled pruning cycle, increasing the number of trees pruned from 500 to 2,000 per year with no increase in tax dollars. As a result, the city spends much less in reactionary maintenance after natural disasters.
Urbana's street tree population now includes more than 150 carefully selected species, with no one species representing more than ten percent of the population. In addition to adding beautiful color and welcome shade to neighborhoods, trees also reduce urban noise, remove pollutants from the air, and absorb excess rainwater.
This tour includes over twenty different specimens, which are part of the outstanding collection of trees in Urbana's Historic District. When on the trail, please do not collect specimens, including bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit from the tree or ground surrounding it. Numerous collectors could easily damage trees beyond recovery.
Content from this tour was adapted from the City of Urbana's State Street Tree Trail. For more information about Urbana's trees, contact City Arborist Mike Brunk.
Hildebrandt, R. (2007). Tree City USA Celebrates 30 Years of Program Excellence. Ourdoorillinois, 6-7. Retrieved from http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/OI/Documents/March07TreeCity.pdf
National Arbor Foundation. (2015). Tree City USA - The Arbor Day Foundation. Retrieved 24 April 2015, from https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/index.cfm
State Street Tree Trail (1st ed.). Urbana, Il. Retrieved from http://urbanaillinois.us/sites/default/files/attachments/tree-walk.pdf