The Wire

Energy news from Omaha Public Power District


Arbor Day Festival helps educate the next generation

April 27, 2022 | Jodi Baker | community, environment, trees
Arbor Day

Children were buzzing about trees, bees, butterflies and more at Lauritzen Gardens’ recent Arbor Day Festival. The event April 26 event took place a few days ahead of the actual holiday, which was founded by Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton.

With about 1,300 elementary school students in attendance, the festival provided a great opportunity for Omaha Public Power District employees to educate the next generation on ways to positively impact the world around us.

“Planting trees, planting grass and doing gardens is all great for the environment,” said OPPD Senior Utility Forester Aaron Holloway. “But this event also gets our kids to participate.”

Planting a tree

He, along with three fellow foresters, enlisted help from children from La Bella Vista Montessori School to help plant a redbud near the entrance to the gardens. Among them, second graders Asher Conover and Enco Lamb.

“It will start out as a seed and sprout,” said Asher.

“And grow, and grow, and grow,” said Enco.

Holloway said it’s important that these students understand what a tree needs to thrive.

“They’re living. They take nutrients,” he said.

Students heard the message.

“You give it water, soil, water, sunlight,” Asher said.

Foresters shared another important message – plant the right tree in the right place.

“That means making sure taller trees are a good distance away from utility lines,” said Utility Forester Mike Norris. “That helps ensure those trees won’t interfere with power lines and disrupt service to our customers.”

Growing pollinator habitats

Norris and Holloway hope the students will go home and share what they learned with their parents. Those who visited the OPPD booth inside the gardens got to take something else home, too.

Lauritzen Arbor Day horizontal
Students make pollinator seed balls during the Arbor Day Festival at Lauritzen Gardens. Photo by Lindsey Ciurej

“We helped them make pollinator seed balls,” said Kim Barnes, an OPPD communications assistant. “They contain Midwest wildflower seeds, to provide pollinator habitats.”

It’s a fun activity with a deeper message, said OPPD Wildlife Natural Resources Specialist Chris Vrtiska.

“We were teaching students why we need these pollinator habitats, to help protect and increase the dwindling numbers of monarch butterflies and bees – important members of our ecosystem.”

The utility partnered with the Save Our Monarchs Foundation in 2018, converting 325 acres of property into natural butterfly habitat. They have added nine more sites throughout the district since that time as part of the utility’s “Prairies in Progress” pollinator program.

“Not only are we increasing biodiversity, we’re saving money,” Vrtiska said. “Transforming areas into natural prairie reduces our maintenance costs by about $8,000 a year.”

He said several substation sites are now prairie land as well, as a natural way to control erosion.

“This is one of the many ways we are upholding our mission of providing affordable, reliable, environmentally sensitive energy services.”

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About Jodi Baker

Jodi Baker contributes stories to The Wire in addition to serving as a media liaison for OPPD. She was a reporter, working for news stations from her hometown of Omaha to San Diego, prior to joining the utility in 2013. Jodi has a bachelor’s degree in Broadcasting from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, with a minor in Criminal Justice. She’s married with two older children and two younger dogs – Shi Tzu mixes. She loves watching her daughter’s track meets, going to concerts with her husband Dave, who used to co-host a local music video program, and traveling whenever possible.

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