Have you ever driven up South Abington Road and noticed the green and white sign just opposite Lansdowne Avenue that proclaims Clarks Green as “Tree City U.S.A.?” Honoring Clarks Summit, the same sign appears opposite Butler’s Sunoco amidst the landscaping at Citizens Savings Bank on State Street. You may have also seen that sign in your travels at other locations in the state, from metropolises like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, to hamlets as small as Eagles Mere and Laporte. Have you ever wondered what that sign means?

In the Abingtons, Clarks Green and Clarks Summit have achieved Tree City status for several years in a row. Looking a bit further afield, Factoryville and Tunkhannock join the list, too. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I wish to see South Abington Township join the list as well. Waverly, Dalton and Glenburn would round out the list of greater Abington-area municipalities that should and could achieve Tree City U.S.A. status.

While achieving Tree City status takes a bit of effort, it is worth it. To achieve Tree City U.S.A. status, municipalities must meet qualifications specifically designed so that the municipality’s size has no effect. In other words, there is no good reason a municipality cannot achieve Tree City U.S.A. status. Achieving Tree City U.S.A. status requires a municipality to achieve the following four criteria:

1. Having a tree board or department. For many years, Clarks Green met this requirement with a shade tree committee. More recently, Clarks Green’s tree board now has the legal clout of a shade tree commission. In either case, having some kind of tree board is important, because tree boards can advise the municipality in matters pertaining to the trees already under its jurisdiction. A tree board ensures that people with an interest in trees are in a position to affect decisions being made that affect the trees.

2. A tree care ordinance. Just before becoming a commission, the Clarks Green shade tree committee helped Clarks Green enact a tree care ordinance. Having an ordinance simply means that the municipality has decided to standardize the care of the trees under its jurisdiction. This standardization is an opportunity to protect and promote the municipality’s tree canopy.

3. A community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita. On the one hand, most municipalities already meet this requirement with fall leaf collections. On the other hand, even a slightly more aggressive tree budget ensures that the community is moving in a “green” direction.

4. An Arbor Day observance and proclamation. At a minimum, officially observing Arbor Day provides an annual reminder of the role of trees in society’s health. In an act of expansive collaboration, Abington-area municipalities typically celebrate Arbor Day jointly.

Thus, Tree City U.S.A. status is not about jumping over specific hurdles. Instead, it is about ensuring that municipalities are running in a specific direction; namely promotion, planting and care of their urban forests.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified Municipal Specialist, a Clarks Summit Tree Commissioner and an operator of a landscape maintenance business. He can be reached at josarhuap@aol.com.