On Sept. 19, close to 3,000 volunteers gathered at over 50 military cemeteries around the country to provide tree care services. From critical tree health care or removal, to simple pruning and beautifying of the grounds, licensed arborists and laypeople worked together to honor the veterans interred there and to give family members a peaceful place to reflect and remember their loved ones.
This National Day of Service started in 2014 as an internal project for employees at Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements to get involved in their communities. Rainbow Treecare is a full-service tree care company with a research and sales department.
“They wanted to come up with some sort of community project where they could give back,” Toni Smith, a territory manager for Rainbow, said. Because Rainbow employees are spread out around the country, she said, they looked at opportunities beyond the Twin Cities and came up with the Saluting Branches project.
The initiative has grown so much in the last four years that Saluting Branches is now a separate nonprofit organization.
“The whole mission statement is ‘Arborists united for veteran remembrance,'” Smith said. “That’s the essence of it.”
That’s not a new idea, she noted, but while other efforts may focus on larger, well-known cemeteries like Arlington National Cemetery, Saluting Branches looks for smaller locations that don’t get as much attention.
“There are all these other lesser-known, smaller, remote locations that need care because the agronomist and the folks that keep their feet on the ground, basically, couldn’t service the trees or have the budget for it, to make it a more beautiful and safer place,” Smith said.
Site leaders for the Day of Service events work with agronomists or groundskeepers at these cemeteries to identify what needs to be done. Then, site leaders and crews of professional arborists and tree care specialists will work alongside other volunteers.
“The professionals will train the laymen, so to speak, to show them how to prune so there’s some education and outreach as well,” Smith explained.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Day of Service events have generated over $5 million worth of services and in-kind donations, Smith said.
This year, approximately 100 volunteers gathered at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver and around 30 volunteers joined crews at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, Smith said. Among the crews, was Thomas Gibson, an Army veteran who now works with American Arbor Care in Denver.
After leaving the Army, Gibson got into firefighting, which led him to wildland firefighting and forestry, and finally to arboriculture. He’s been with American Arbor Care for about a year and a half, and has participated in the Day of Service twice.
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“We’d be trimming a tree and a funeral would go by, so we would keep the noise down, try to pay as much respect as we could to the families,” Gibson said. “It was nice to go out there. It’s nice to always be a part of that.”
Gibson and his crew trimmed ash trees and picked up dead limbs and branches, “basically making it look nice and hopefully trimming it so that nothing will break during the wintertime and possibly damage a headstone, because those headstones are all made of marble.”