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Sunday December 5th

Planting for the future: Chapel Hill mayor hosts Tree of the Year contest

A student sits under the shade of a tree in Polk Place on Nov. 9 2021.
Buy Photos A student sits under the shade of a tree in Polk Place on Nov. 9 2021.

The Mayor’s Tree of the Year contest, a contest run by the Town of Chapel Hill to highlight important and meaningful trees in the community, is returning for a second year.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the contest is part of a larger celebration by the town to celebrate Arbor Day. States and towns all across the country celebrate Arbor Day on different dates, with Chapel Hill celebrating on Nov. 19.

“The goal is to plant 200 trees every year, and we usually surpass that, "Hemminger said. "The Tree of the Year contest is to help inspire people to notice their trees and take pride in them, and help encourage others to plant trees at the same time."

She also mentioned how important it is for the town to remain focused on the environment as Chapel Hill continues to expand.

“We love our trees in this community," Hemminger said. "It's a high priority. We’re trying to balance now with all of the development. We want to be sure we are balancing our green spaces and trees.”

The winner of the inaugural 2019 contest was a towering shagbark hickory located in the Meadowmont community, known as "Momma."

Bill Ferrell, manager of the Meadowmont Community Association, spoke about how important the tree has been to the community.

"She has been around for 80-90 years, and she actually got her name from the fact that we have taken saplings from her and planted them elsewhere around Meadowmont," Ferrell said. "She is the mother of dozens of trees.”

Michael Piehler, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment, said contests like the Tree of the Year can be very helpful for communities like Chapel Hill.

"They allow people who already have an affinity for the environment and sustainability an outlet for them to share the things they care about," Piehler said.

He said that while UNC helps with the conservation of trees, the University also has a program within the Institute for the Environment for when trees fall down.

“The Carolina Tree Heritage program ... captures the heritage trees on campus when they come down and turns them into all sorts of things," Piehler said. "If you’ve been in the South Building in the last few weeks, there is a beautiful table that comes from a tree that fell down on campus. Rather than being used for a less-valuable purpose, it was transformed into furniture to carry on the heritage of the trees on campus.”

Hemminger said the Tree of the Year contest and UNC programs like the Carolina Tree Heritage Program pair well with the Town of Chapel Hill's sustainability initiatives.

“It helps keep the public engaged when you put out friendly competitions and raise awareness," Hemminger said. "We need to promote some educational opportunities for folks to learn more about what they can do to be involved.”

The Mayor’s Tree of the Year contest is accepting submissions until Nov. 20. For more information on how to participate, please visit the competition’s website.

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