A program that has received national attention took place again Thursday in St. Martins, highlighting the importance of trees.
Tree climbing, tree planting and tree identification were among the activities during the Arbor Day celebration at Niekamp Park.
About 200 students from St. Martin Catholic School walked to the park throughout the day for the event honoring the first Arbor Day, which took place in April 1872 in Nebraska.
Hentges Tree Service provided a tree-climbing station for students to experience the safety devices professionals use.
The Missouri Department of Conservation sent foresters to demonstrate how to plant trees and to teach students the process of identifying trees.
MDC's Ann Koenig said they talked with the children about many aspects of the department's Trees Work Campaign, which highlights the benefits of trees, the best places to plant them, and how trees can improve and protect property.
"Studies show that being able to look at trees while you're at work can lead to employees taking as many as 15 less sick days, and patients at hospitals tend to ask for less pain medications if they are able to look out at trees," Koenig said. "Having trees on your property can reduce your cooling bill by 30 percent and can increase the value of your property by as much as $8,000."
St. Martins was recognized in February for its Arbor Day awareness with the Midwestern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture's Gold Leaf Award. The award is designed to recognize an individual, organization or community in the Midwestern Chapter area for outstanding Arbor Day programs or community landscape beautification projects.
St. Martins received the award for hosting Arbor Day programs at Niekamp Park. More than 400 students from St. Martin Catholic School and Pioneer Trail Elementary School attended the programs in 2016 and 2017.
Hugo and Mary Niekamp donated the park land in 1975. In just the last four years there have been several improvements to the park thanks to funds from the city's parks budget, state and private grants, Eagle Scout projects and donations.
St. Martins City Administrator Doug Reece said all this is leading to increased use, even from visitors outside city limits.
"We hope that your kids will continue to benefit from this park," he told the students.
"The most important resource is right over there," South Ward Alderman Daryl Raithel said, pointing at the children around the park. "Any way we can help them out, we'll do it."