CSU marks 10th straight year of being honored as Tree Campus Higher Education Institution

Rock elm on campus

CSU has been home to many state champions. A champion tree exceeds all others in the state in a combination of height, trunk circumference and canopy spread. The most notable state tree champion at CSU today is this 117-foot-tall Rock elm — the fifth tree from the corner of College and Laurel. It was part of the 1892 tree plantings along the College Avenue and Laurel Street frontages. Photo by Julia Innes

About a decade after the first Arbor Day in 1872, Colorado State University had a mass planting of 3,000 trees — many of which are alive today. Recently, the Arbor Day Foundation again named CSU as a Tree Campus Higher Education Institution. The 2020 honor marks the University’s 10th consecutive year with that designation.

Formerly known as Tree Campus USA, the Arbor Day Foundation designation means CSU protects and maintains the campus urban forest, reduces hazardous tree risks to public safety and maintains a sustainable campus forest through species diversity and best management practices.

“What we’re doing through this effort is very symbolic of what the University as a whole is doing through their sustainability efforts,” said Fred Haberecht, assistant director of CSU’s facilities management. “I think the appreciation of the value of trees of those who planted in 1881 are very much the same as we have today. And there’s been a continuity of stewardship for those 140 years that has sustained. Those trees on the Oval would have been gone long ago if there weren’t several generations of good stewards that saw the value in them.”

CSU’s recent national recognition

  • Sierra Magazine: No. 10 in 2021’s “Cool Schools”
  • Princeton Review: No. 10 in 2021’s Top 50 “Green Colleges”
  • Arbor Day Foundation: Tree Campus Higher Education Institution in 2020
  • US News & World Report: No. 67, Best Public Universities in America for 2022

Young tree on campusTiming of award

The reason the award is for 2020 is that the process to submit an application for Tree Campus Higher Education generally occurs after the year is complete. CSU will be submitting an application in early 2022 for the 2021 honor.

Haberecht said CSU’s Larimer County campuses include 10,000 trees and that an Oval Preservation Fund is available to those who want to donate to the iconic tree-lined landmark.

“I think it’s special for the University in that it embodies a lot of the land-grant heritage and mission: offering engaging outdoor learning and landscape resources for the campus as well as the community in general,” said David Hansen, a landscape architect at CSU who designed a notable tree walk on campus that matches the spirit of the Arbor Day Foundation award. “It really speaks to the academic mission of the University as well. It really kind of backs that up and bolsters it.”

Julia Innes of facilities management said CSU also has been named a Level 3 arboretum by Arbnet.

“This accreditation speaks to the commitment of CSU to the thoughtful management of our urban forest,” Innes said. “The same commitment was evident in the 1880s when trees were first planted on our campus.”

Haberecht recalled the Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Some trees, like the 117-foot tall Rock Elm fifth from the corner of College and Laurel, were planted in the second batch in 1892. That’s nearly six times longer than the proverb’s 20-year advice.

Haberecht said plantings will continue: “There are generations of people that have seen the value in planting a tree and the legacy that it provides.”