Growing legacy: Issaquah reigns as Tree City USA

April 20, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The mayor and city brass gathered to celebrate Arbor Day last April beneath dull gray skies — a bare, drab scene unlike the leafy canopy shading Issaquah streets in summertime.

City leaders and residents gather every spring to plant the official Arbor Day tree: a Burr oak near Gibson Hall last year, a crabapple at Grand Ridge Elementary School the year before. The annual ceremony serves as more than a photo opportunity.

Officials will mark Arbor Day indoors next week, with a presentation by city Open Space Steward Matt Mechler to the municipal Park Board.

Issaquah, designated as a Tree City USA for the past 16 years, is required to observe and proclaim Arbor Day to maintain the designation. Officials mark the day with a tree planting, and select a ceremonial tree for each occasion.

City Arborist Alan Haywood oversees the urban forest and ensures that Issaquah keeps the Tree City USA distinction — no small feat in a city where tree canopy covers 51 percent of the municipality.

Alan Haywood, Issaquah city arborist, holds a tape measure around the Ruth Kees Big Tree, a Douglas fir on a hiking trail near Lake Tradition. The 2006 Heritage Tree, between 200 and 400 years old, is 26 feet in circumference, equivalent to 8 feet, 4 inches through the trunk in diameter. By Greg Farrar

“One of the cool things about being in this position in a community that values trees, I get to have a far-reaching impact,” Haywood said. “My work will remain long after I’m gone.”

In order for a municipality to be named a Tree City USA by the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation, a city must meet a few criteria. Besides the Arbor Day observance, city officials must form a tree board or department, enact a tree ordinance and spend at least $2 per capita on tree care.

In Issaquah, the Park Board oversees tree-related issues. Throughout 2007 and 2008, the City Council expanded and updated rules to preserve trees and limit removal of the woody plants.

Although other environmental causes — say, open space and salmon habitat restoration — attract notable conservationists, urban forestry seldom attracts attention.

“We don’t have a Harvey Manning or a Ruth Kees carrying the tree banner for us,” Haywood said, referring to the late environmentalists.

Before settlers arrived and developed the valley wedged between Cougar, Tiger and Squak mountains, old-growth conifers dominated the landscape. The forest fueled a lucrative logging industry that sustained early pioneers. As a result, most of the woodlands in and near Issaquah today are second-growth forest.

Heritage Trees also dot the city landscape. Mayor Ava Frisinger declares such trees, which are singled out for significant age, size, historic significance and ecological value.

Crews also replace trees as the plants age and pose safety hazards. When workers remove aging trees, officials encourage replacements, like the city’s centennial tree, Eddie’s White Wonder dogwood — a hardy species known for abundant white flowers.

All of the tree-related work and Tree City USA recognition serves more than aesthetic and environmental needs, Arbor Day Foundation spokesman Mark Derowitsch said.

The recognition and commitment to trees instills community pride, and a healthy urban forest also improves air quality because “trees are nature’s best air filters,” Derowitsch said.

The designation “encourages communities to take better care of our nation’s community forests,” he added. Only 16 communities received the Tree City USA designation in 1976, when the program originated. More than 3,400 cities nationwide received the honor last year.

In Issaquah, Haywood prepared all 16 successful Tree City USA applications. The new year brought Haywood another form to complete, and the arborist said the city would almost undoubtedly receive the honor for a 17th year.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

If you go

Arbor Day presentation

Park Board meeting

  • April 26
  • 7 p.m.
  • Issaquah Trails House
  • 110 Bush St.
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One Response to “Growing legacy: Issaquah reigns as Tree City USA”

  1. Mayor highlights latest crop of Heritage Trees : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on October 23rd, 2010 6:01 am

    […] mayor last announced a group of Heritage Trees in December. Issaquah has been designated a Tree City USA for the past 17 years. // Other Stories of Interest: Ava Frisinger, Heritage Trees, Issaquah […]

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