William Thornton would be proud of Rockford today. In 1856 the civil engineer was given the job of platting the Village of Laphamville and Thornton made sure the village, which would one day become Rockford, had lots of trees. On Friday, April 30, Rockford took the final step in a process that will qualify the town as a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA.
An Arbor Day celebration Friday featured the hard work of Valley View Elementary’s Green Team and 40 donated maple trees from the City of Rockford. During the day Rockford crews planted more trees throughout the city.
Andrew Shear, who many residents may remember from his long stint at the Rockford Post Office—900 years, according to Shear—is one of the people behind the new designation. He and Lynn McIntosh approached the city council in 2008, asking council to consider pursuing the Tree City honor. They pointed out the history of our arbor roots. According to Homer Burch’s book From Samill to City, which chronicles the town’s early years, Thornton’s efforts toward a tree-filled town was appreciated.
“A few years later the results of Thornton’s efforts were so evident that village officials adopted a policy of continuing his project until Rockford became widely noted for its treee shaded streets.” Burch’s book reads.
Rockford council were reluctant to pursue the designation, fearing that becoming a Tree City would impose new restrictions or costs on residents.
According to City Manager Michael Young, Rockford is already doing about everything required to be a Tree City USA, including caring for city trees and encouraging planting trees with a cost sharing program for residents. Having an annual Arbor Day celebration will now be something all residents can look forward to, including signs at city limits proclaiming Rockford a Tree City USA.
For Shear and McIntosh, the new designation is exciting and brings endless possibilities. “I see interest in trees blooming for Rockford,” McIntosh said.