Highland Park Councilwoman Susie Welkovits joined Highland Park Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Taylor and members of the Highland Park High School Environmental Club on June 5, 2019 for a ceremonial tree planting at the high school to kick off a $30,000 Urban & Community Forestry Grant from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
“There is so much that I absolutely love about this initiative,” said Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler. “It’s the result of a partnership among the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, one of our most active volunteer-led groups – STAC, and a student environmental group from Highland Park High School. It is built on a grant we received from the NJDEP. And it will restock the tree coverage on and near the grounds of our public schools. This effort reflects the values of sustainability, team-work, and environmental action that animate our town and allow us to consistently make such a large impact on our common spaces. My thanks and congratulations go to all the partners in this wonderful effort.”
Each partner in this project leveraged its expertise during collaborative planning meetings in late 2018 and early 2019. At these meetings, school leadership and student representatives indicated where and what they’d like to see planted. STAC and Rutgers Professor of Landscape Architecture, Tobiah Horton, took these recommendations and translated them into a detailed tree planting and maintenance plan.
“This project demonstrates the critical roles trees can play in neighborhoods and campuses. At the high school, these roles include habitat strengthening and storm water management, as well as food production,” said Tobiah Horton. “Richly planted and shady outdoor classrooms and gathering spots will demonstrate that strengthening ecological community can also improve people’s connection to nature and one another.”
The plantings of 75 trees of diverse – primarily native – species will be concentrated on the high school campus, with several trees dedicated to the streets around the two elementary schools. The trees planted through this grant will form the cornerstone for the landscape element in the existing high school Sustainable Campus Master Plan. The grant will enable the high school to create two ecological communities as well as a small fruit orchard, forming an outdoor learning environment that will be integrated into the school curriculum.
“For a district that has committed to protecting the environment – all of Highland Park’s schools are bronze certified by Sustainable Jersey for Schools – the blessing of this grant further illustrates how a whole-community effort can lead to positive action that other towns and their schools should replicate,” said Dr. Scott Taylor, Superintendent of Highland Park Schools.
NJDEP’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant program is raising the profile of urban forestry and bringing to light the benefits of trees for our communities. Trees play an essential role in improving and maintaining a high quality of life for residents, and it is STAC’s hope that growing numbers of residents become passionate about playing their role in stewarding Highland Park’s trees and urban forest.