Perry Elementary, St. Pat’s students plant trees to help celebrate Arbor Day

Allison Ullmann
Perry Chief

Mike Peterson, with the Perry Parks and Recreation Department, held up a new tree for a group of fifth-graders to get a closer look at the root system before placing it in a newly dug hole. 

Some of the Perry Elementary students gathered around the tree then got their hands dirty as they helped plant it in Wiese Park on Friday, April 29. Then it was St. Patrick School’s turn as a smaller group of fifth-graders helped dig the hole before planting a second tree.

The trees were donated by Perry Hy-Vee and planted with the help of the Perry Parks and Recreation Department as part of an annual Arbor Day celebration.

“Every year the fifth grade class gets to plant a couple trees out in the park system and they get to watch them grow,” said John Anderson, director of the Perry Parks and Recreation Department. “By the time they’re graduating, those trees have actually grown substantially and they’ll always have something to remember. There’s some community pride there that I think is really cool.”

Anderson talked about the value of trees during a pair of presentations to Perry Elementary and St. Pat’s students on April 29.

“Just continue to plant trees, they’re valuable,” he said during a later interview. “Part of that TreeKeeper software that we put together, it calculates the total yearly eco benefits of a tree. There’s a lot that goes into that, but shade, cooling the concrete that’s around, it cools people’s houses, it drinks water, every time there’s a rain event those trees are sucking up water and it’s actually mitigating how much water goes into our storm collection system.”

Anderson said the department hired Davey Resource Group to conduct an inventory of city-owned trees on public streets and in the park system. The data was collected in February and shows where every city-owned tree is located along with available planting sites. 

“Any natural disaster that comes through, whether it be storm damage or a bug or a spore like Dutch elm disease, we’ll be able to track that and we know where all the trees are now and we can go and manage that at any time, which is really awesome,” Anderson said of the TreeKeeper software.

The TreeKeeper software shows the location of trees and available planting sites in right-of-ways and the park system in Perry.

Emerald ash borer has also been an issue in Perry. Anderson estimates they removed around 85 ash trees in the park system this winter and all of those were infected with the ash borer. 

“We removed 80 trees over the winter, but since I’ve been here we planted a tree nursery and we’ve already pulled out 600 trees,” Anderson said. “We’ve been actively replanting because I knew the ash borer was coming.”

Before Anderson was in Perry, he served as the assistant parks and recreation department in Creston.

“When I left there, every ash tree in Creston was already dead. In my time there, I was able to watch the ash borer come into town and devastate it and kill all of the trees," Anderson said. "Then when I came here, it was oh wow, the ash trees look really good here, we have some time to talk about it and we have time to figure out what makes the most sense for the city.”

He then started working on getting a tree nursery started to help mitigate the effects from the emerald ash borer. Anderson, now in his seventh year with the city of Perry, said they have already pulled around 600 trees from the nursery.

“Now we’re at a point where we’ve put so many trees back into our park system, the recovery time from natural disasters is much faster now,” he added.

John Anderson, with the Perry Parks and Recreation Department, addresses Perry Elementary fifth-graders before they planted a tree on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Wiese Park to celebrate Arbor Day. The tree was donated by Perry Hy-Vee.

The department buys the trees through the state of Iowa for a fraction of their retail cost. The saplings are planted in rows at the nursery. Anderson said the department is then able to go in with a tree spade, pull out a 15-foot tree and replant it within the park system.

The data collected by the Davey Resource Group will also help the parks and rec department continue to diversify the tree canopy. 

“We have all the data now that we can start replanting our tree nursery with projections of future planting sites,” Anderson said. “It just changes our planning for our nursery so we can buy trees that are saplings to put in there that are different species than what’s common in certain areas of our park system.”

Anderson said the department is continuing to maintain the tree nursery as well as work on a detailed replanting plan. He added that there are ways for the community to help.

 For those who don’t have a place to plant a tree in their own yard, Anderson said residents can purchase a tree at Perry Greenhouse and Supply. Larry Vodenik, with Perry Hy-Vee, helped line up a program where residents can pick out a tree at Perry Greenhouse and Supply. The Perry Parks and Recreation Department will then be notified and they can come pick it up and plant it within the park system.

St. Pat's fifth-graders help plant a tree on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Wiese Park to celebrate Arbor Day. The Perry Parks and Recreation Department led the planting of the tree, which was donated by Perry Hy-Vee.

Residents interested in planting a tree in the park system can also contact Anderson by calling 515-465-5621, emailing or stopping by the McCreary Community Building.

Another option, he said, is to have perpetual care of the tree nursery. Anderson can purchase saplings for 25 cents, put it in the city’s nursery, grow it to 15-foot and then transplant it compared to the cost of the same-size tree at a greenhouse.

“Planting trees is awesome, however you do it. I think there should be an option where instead of $600 for one tree, you give us $600 and it could plant (multiple) trees in our nursery,” Anderson said. “There’s benefits either way, that $600 for a tree changes that area right now. But at the same time, $600 makes a life-long impression. There are a lot of trees that can be planted for that, you just don’t see the effect right away, it’s more of a long-term process.” 

The parks and rec department recently purchased 100 pots and will be working to plant saplings. Anderson hopes to partner with the Perry Chamber of Commerce once the trees have grown to four feet in the next year or two.

“We’re hoping we can come down to a farmers market event and give those 100 trees back to the community in an effort to rehabilitate the urban canopy that’s been devastated by the emerald ash borer and the derechos we went through,” Anderson said. “We’re just trying to do what we can to get trees back into people’s backyards.”

Perry Elementary fifth-graders watch as Mike Peterson gets ready to plant a tree on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Wiese Park to celebrate Arbor Day. The Perry Parks and Recreation Department led the planting of the tree, which was donated by Perry Hy-Vee.