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Celebrating Arbor Day in Oyster Bay

More than 1,000 people took in the majesty of trees Saturday, the first day of the two-day festival at Planting Fields Arboretum. 

Camille Pop Smirnoff, 6, of Douglaston, center, climbs

Camille Pop Smirnoff, 6, of Douglaston, center, climbs a tree with the help of a safety harness and a supervising professional from Wonderland Tree Care Inc. at Planting Field Arboretum's Arbor Day festival on Saturday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Climb trees, paint watercolors, see toy trains weave through a garden, listen to stories, take part in a scavenger hunt, sit for a caricaturist — and possibly pick up some free seedlings: These were among the many ways Long Islanders celebrated Arbor Day on Saturday at Oyster Bay's Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park.

Stacey Tracy, 43, of Mineola, watched as her oldest son, Lucas, 6, hoisted himself up an elm in a harness and rig, under the watchful eyes of Wonderland Tree Care, Inc.'s professional tree-trimmers. "He's as cool as a cucumber, so I'm staying calm," Tracy said.

"It's a fun day for us," said Peter Golon, a Wonderland arborist. "The girls do it best; it's not about strength." Working the stirrups and sliding the rope knots requires coordination and skill. "It's about doing two to three things at once — and girls tend to listen," he said. 

Arbor Day began in 1872, when J. Sterling Morton, who later became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, moved from Michigan to the Nebraska Territory and decided the prairie — and future generations — needed trees, historians say.

Toting a slim branch clipped from a red stem dogwood, Helene Manas, 63, and her husband, Mark, 67, of Merrick, extolled the beauty, majesty and mystery of trees on the first day of the state park's two-day festival, attended by more than 1,000 people.

"Every time I plant a tree I feel like I'm helping the environment because we're in such a bad time; climate change is doing so much destruction ... at least planting trees is adding a little goodness to the environment," she said. Describing a now blossoming cherry tree, she added: "I just look out my window now, and it just brings me so much joy."

Her husband, citing research revealing trees communicate with one another through their roots, spoke of the restorative aspect of walking through a forest: "It's something larger than me that's alive; it kind of puts you back in perspective."

Nicole Pemberton, 42, of Freeport, watercolor painting  with her son, Christian, 11, had a similar response. "I just think they represent kind of a purity; I like trees, I just like to look at them."

Sienna Rae Boden, 12, of Huntington, highlighted another feature. Asked why she chose a spruce seedling, she responded: "I think it smells good."

With the average Nassau yard just 6,000 square feet, Patricia Oliver, master gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension, said more native shrubs — dogwood, witch hazel and northern bayberry — are being given out, along with more towering species, like the Norway spruce. The red stem dogwood, she said, might be at its best in winter.

"The beautiful red stems — when you see that in winter against the snow — it is just stunning."

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