WEST WARWICK — In West Warwick, recently designated as a Tree City USA community for the 20th consecutive year, an appreciation for nature is apparently deeply rooted.
“It’s a nice accomplishment,” Jack Lancellotta, executive director of the West Warwick Jaycees Alumni Association, said of receiving the designation year after year. “It shows that the community takes pride in the appearance of the town and in the environment.”
It was two decades ago that the Arbor Day Foundation first named West Warwick a Tree City USA community for its commitment to maintaining a healthy urban forest. And the town has earned the distinction each year since.
Started in 1976 in hopes of creating “a greener, healthier America,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation website, the program today includes more than 3,600 communities from every state, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
West Warwick is one of 14 Tree City USA municipalities in Rhode Island – at 35 years, Providence has boasted the designation the longest.
Trees benefit urban environments in a variety of ways.
In addition to improving the visual appeal of an area, trees help absorb traffic noise in urban areas by up to 40 percent, can cool neighborhoods by up to nine degrees, help mitigate the effects of climate change and can play a role in improving mental and physical health.
And when they see that the town cares, Lancellotta added, it’s likely that residents will be inspired to do some planting on their own properties.
With assistance from the state Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) Division of Forest Environment, the Jaycees have worked alongside the town, including the public works and parks and recreation departments, to maintain West Warwick’s status as a Tree City USA community.
The town has to apply each year for recertification.
To qualify for the designation, a community must meet four standards: it must maintain a tree board or department; have a community tree ordinance; spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry; and celebrate Arbor Day.
Every spring for some 25 years now, the Jaycees have recognized Earth Day and Arbor Day during an Ecology Day ceremony at the Jaycee Corridor and Arboretum in Riverpoint Park. In a celebration of trees and the natural world, volunteers come together to clean up the park, plant flowers and enjoy the outdoors.
The town council awards a citation to the Jaycees annually in recognition of that event, which then gets submitted to the Arbor Day Foundation as part of recertification.
West Warwick adopted its tree ordinance, which among other things regulates the protection, maintenance, removal and planting of trees, in 1999.
Nicknamed the “Jaycee Green Law” for the organization’s efforts to bring it to fruition, Lancellotta said, the ordinance was adopted thanks to cooperation by local officials and help from the RIDEM Division of Forest Environment.
“That was a big effort,” he recalled, “but the town was willing to do it.”
As for the spending standard, with a population of around 30,000, West Warwick needs to allocate approximately $60,000 each year toward forestry efforts.
Anything that the town’s Public Works Department, which functions as its tree department, does related to tree care counts toward that, Lancellotta said — picking up yard waste can even be counted toward meeting the requirement.
During a meeting earlier this month, the West Warwick Town Council recognized the Jaycees for the group’s unwavering dedication to the town and to this cause.
“Let me start off by saying thank you for everything you do for West Warwick,” David Gosselin, town council president, said as he prepared to present the Jaycees with a proclamation celebrating two decades as a Tree City USA community.
The proclamation also lauds the organization for its ongoing management of its corridor and arboretum, and for advocating for the rehabilitation of the Sen. Donald E. Roch Riverwalk, which “has become a statewide attraction of horticultural excellence over the past decade.”