W&J students celebrate Arbor Day with tree plantings

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April showers Friday afternoon didn’t deter Washington & Jefferson College students from getting their hands dirty to celebrate Arbor Day.


In fact, the cool temperatures and cloudy skies turned out to be perfect weather for students studying general botany as they finished off their semester by planting four white-barked Himalayan birch trees around the Commons.


The day’s lesson gave Jason Kilgore, the assistant biology professor teaching the class, a chance to discuss with the students the history of Arbor Day and explain techniques for planting trees with the hope of giving them a “real appreciation” for botany in the field.


“They’ve spent time learning how roots grow and the physiology, but what it comes down to is they can put it all together here,” Kilgore said. “I hope they’ll be planting on their own one day and they’ll be interested in their own landscaping, so when they come back as alumni they can feel like they’re a part of the campus.”


The rain slowed to a drizzle just as Kilgore split his 14 students into four teams to plant the four birch trees into previously dug holes in the landscaping corner between Lincoln and Wheeling streets.


In one of the groups, Jim Mirage, the college’s director of grounds, helped senior business major Steven Licht carefully roll the tree into its spot before they and other students buried it under dirt and mulch.


Each location had its own nuances, as Mirage found out when he walked a few feet away to another team that was struggling to put its tree in a hole that turned out to be a bit shallow for the roots.


“I’ll keep an eye on her for a while to make sure she survives,” Mirage said. “I don’t know why I just called her a ‘she.’”


The Arbor Day Foundation recognized the college in 2013 as a Tree Campus USA member, a distinction given to schools across the country that promote nature projects. Kilgore said the college is active with the Arbor Day Foundation and has a tree advisory committee to promote landscaping on campus.


“Our goal is every year to get that (Tree Campus USA) recognition,” Kilgore said. “We’d like to get more students involved.”


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