Oneonta celebrates Arbor Day

Apr. 28—Oneonta celebrated Arbor Day on Friday with a pair of tree plantings.

During the morning, students at Riverside Elementary School helped members of the Friends of Swart-Wilcox House Museum and Oneonta city personnel plant an apple tree at the museum grounds.

"Henry Wilcox had a thriving orchard," Helen Rees, president of the friends group, said. "He sold his apples to mom-and-pop stores along River Street to sell and had a cider business as well. When his two sons got older they found it hard to pick all the apples, so they rented out the apple trees to local railroad families."

The 12 apple trees planted were part of a $40,016 Department of Environmental Conservation Tree Planting in Disadvantaged Communities after Ash Tree Loss grant the city received, Judy Pangman, city community development director, said. Semi dwarf, heirloom varieties of Cortland, Empire and Wolf River apple trees were planted, she said. An additional 45 street trees will be planted in the Sixth Ward this year as part of the grant.

During the presentation to students, friends group member Norma Slawson read entries from Wilcox's diary that included when he pruned apple trees, cleaned rotten apples out of his cellar, sold casks and barrels of cider, and peeled apples.

Oneonta forester Fred Hathaway talked about the importance of trees and Pangman talked about the grant the city received to plant the trees.

Hathaway also visited Greater Plains Elementary School in the afternoon. He was joined by Mayor Mark Drnek, who read a proclamation about Arbor Day and declared April 28, as Arbor Day in the city of Oneonta to continue its designation as a Tree City USA city. Drnek urged all of the city's residents, no matter their age, to "support our effort and plant a tree."

Hathaway said he had previously visited the fifth-grade classrooms of Michele Temming and Georgie Wellman to challenge the students to find the biggest tree in Oneonta. "I told them to stay out of the parks, off campuses and out of the forest," he said. "They did find some big trees, but not the biggest tree."

Hathaway said the biggest tree in Oneonta is at 38 Grove Street and measurers 50.2 inches wide. The biggest one the students found was 38 inches wide, he said. Lilly Schmitt found that tree and Beckett Dono found the second-biggest one in the classes. Schmitt said she couldn't remember where she thought the biggest tree was and Dono said he found his on Church Street. They both said they had fun trying to find the biggest tree in the city. The two were chosen to place the first shovels full of dirt onto a sugar maple tree being planted in the front of the school in honor of Arbor Day.

Drnek thanked the students for planting the tree on behalf of the city's "13,400 people, 53,716 squirrels and 146,512 birds."

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.