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(18/P33) TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry today celebrated Arbor Day with tree plantings and an awards ceremony in Riverton spotlighting efforts across the state to grow healthy, safe, and resilient urban and community forests.

The ceremony highlighted the Burlington County borough's 30th year as a Tree City USA. It also recognized the commitment by numerous communities and individuals to ensure healthy populations of trees, including efforts to restore trees to the state's urban areas.

"Arbor Day gives us an excellent opportunity to appreciate the trees that clean our water and air, cool our cities, and beautify our communities," DEP Deputy Commissioner Debbie Mans said during the ceremony at the borough's Memorial Park. "This celebration - and all the Earth Week events we've been celebrating across the state this week - remind us of the importance of trees to a healthy environment."

Riverton was selected to host the DEP's annual Arbor Day celebration in recognition of its participation in the New Jersey Urban Community Forestry program and the borough's 30th year as a Tree City USA. The goal of urban forestry is to ensure that urbanized communities have healthy and sustainable forests that provide numerous environmental and quality-of-life benefits.

The Tree City USA program coordinated by the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation recognizes efforts to conserve and enhance trees in thousands of communities across the nation. New Jersey ranks among the nation's leaders in numbers of communities in the program.

Students from the Riverton School's third- and fifth-grade classes participated in the ceremony. The trees were provided by the New Jersey Forest Nursery's Third Grade Tree Program.

The borough of about one square mile along the Delaware River was also selected to celebrate its accomplishments in developing a sustainable tree canopy through species diversity. The municipality boasts more than 2,600 trees of 166 different species on municipally owned property alone. The New Jersey Tree Foundation's Green Streets Program crew helped Riverton plant 15 species of trees along borough streets as well as at Riverton Memorial Park. Species included red maple, American elm, swamp white oak, sugar maple and flowering cherry.

In addition to recognizing Riverton's decades of accomplishments, this Arbor Day marks the 20th anniversary of the New Jersey Tree Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees in New Jersey's urban neighborhoods.

"A diverse urban community forest significantly decreases vulnerability to climate change, extreme weather, and forest diseases and pests such as the emerald ash borer, a beetle that is having devastating impacts on ash trees in New Jersey," said State Forester John Sacco. "Of Riverton's thousands of trees on municipal land, only 71 are ash.  This not only makes conserving healthy ash trees more affordable, it ensures that Riverton is able to sustain an urban forest canopy."

"Over the past two decades, the New Jersey Tree Foundation has had a hand in planting more than 204,000 trees across the state, from community-based volunteer projects to those contracted through our Green Street Program," said Lisa Simms, Executive Director of the New Jersey Tree Foundation. "Through planting of trees and the fostering of volunteerism through strong partnerships, the New Jersey Tree Foundation has been an important partner in helping communities improve their environment and the quality of life for their residents."

"Arbor Day is an opportune time to recognize towns, like Riverton, that have done an exemplary job of ensuring that this community has a healthy and diverse population of trees," said Senator Troy Singleton (7th District). "We all know that trees are so very important to our air quality, our water systems, and our overall environment. However, they also provide a picturesque background to this already extraordinary town. When you walk, bike or even drive around Riverton, you can't help but be impressed by their beautiful tree-lined streets."

"I am proud to support Riverton in continuing its longstanding commitment to conservation," said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (7th District). "Their efforts prove that towns can play a vital role in implementing environmental initiatives."

"Our picturesque community is made even more so by the beautiful trees throughout town and at Riverton Memorial Park," Mayor Suzanne Cairns Wells said. "Trees not only contribute to our overall wellness in producing oxygen and providing shade, but also in providing us with a sense of history and community pride, a place where memories are made and stories are told.  Our trees are a critical and much-loved part of Riverton."

During the ceremony, the DEP presented the prestigious Joyce Kilmer Award for Outstanding Contributions to Urban and Community Forests to Roni Olizi, founding board member of the New Jersey Tree Foundation and founding member of the New Jersey Community Forestry Council. In addition, Recognition of Service awards were given to Olizi, Elizabeth Lilleston and Richard Wolowicz for their many years of service on the New Jersey Community Forestry Council.

During the event, the following municipalities were recognized for reaching Tree City USA milestones:

* First-year recipients: Allentown, East Greenwich, Hopewell Township (Mercer County), Manville, North Wildwood, Old Bridge and Saddle River.

* 10-year recipients: Delanco, Franklin Lakes, Marlboro, Pompton Lakes, Ridgefield and Stanhope.

* 20-year recipients: Bayonne, Caldwell, Florence, Glen Ridge, Howell, Shrewsbury, Stone Harbor and West Cape May.

* 30-year recipients: Cranbury, Interlaken, Pennington and Riverton.

* 40-year recipients: East Brunswick and Merchantville.

In addition, the Tree Line USA award was presented to Atlantic City Electric. This Arbor Day Foundation award recognizes utilities for implementing best practices in maintaining trees along power transmission lines and on campuses. Fairleigh Dickinson University was honored with the state's first Tree Campus Award for using best management practices on campus.

Celebrating Arbor Day in New Jersey dates to the late 19th century. Then in 1949, the Legislature designated the last Friday in April as the state's official celebration of Arbor Day to promote tree planting and encourage residents to appreciate them.

In addition to Arbor Day activities to celebrate New Jersey's trees, an ongoing tree seedling distribution campaign continues statewide through Sunday, May 6. The New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign, a partnership between the DEP's New Jersey Forest Service and the Arbor Day Foundation, is distributing some 90,000 free tree seedlings to New Jersey residents at more than 100 locations across the state.

To find a seedling distribution location in your community and to learn more about trees, visit the New Jersey Forest Service Facebook page and website:

For more information on the New Jersey Urban Community Forestry program and becoming a Tree City USA, visit: