"They make all the soil, that grows all the food, that feeds humanity," said Thomas O'Grady, manager of the Athens County recycling program. "It's something we don't think about when we think of tress."
O'Grady is directing various Arbor Day projects throughout the county, such as a landscaping project, newspaper collection drives and tree planting programs in which 600 seedlings have already been planted. A project which is gathering attention throughout the county is the "Big Tree" program.
The Athens County Arbor Day Committee is sponsoring the program which asks people to nominate trees of each species that they consider are the largest of their kind. Upon gathering all nominations, O'Grady hopes to establish the Athens County Champion Tree Register where the trees and their present caretakers will be pictured.
"It's a long and very slow process," O'Grady said. But the committee is hoping to gather enough information to publish at least a preliminary register in time for the Athens County Fair this summer.
According to O'Grady, at one time Athens County had the largest bitternut hickory, English oak, Norway maple, Douglas fir and European basswood trees in the state. Seven years ago, the largest ironwood in the state stood in the West Union Street Cemetery, but it no longer exists.
"Other than being on a list in some obscure book in the library, the trees have no added protection," O'Grady said. Protection by the law is a bit far-fetched, he admitted, since most of the trees are on private property.
The goal of the program is to educate people about trees and that will lend them a certain amount of protection. Promoting an understanding about trees, will emphasize their importance in society, he said.
"There's no better friend to have than a tree," O'Grady said. Along with making the food we consume, trees play a major role in the fight against air pollution and the "greenhouse effect." Trees consume a significant portion of the carbon dioxide which is expelled from factories and smokestacks that cause global warming. The fewer trees we have, them ore likely the "greenhouse effect" will increase.
The committee's main concern is that most trees, especially the older ones, don't survive certain decision making processes and end up in our landfills as wasted paper products. As director of the recycling program in Athens, O'Grady has learned that by recycling the paper that is already in use today, more trees need not be chopped down.
Only five state champion trees remain in Athens County, O'Grady said. Hopefully with the "Big Tree" program more will be located.
For nomination forms and information about the program, contact the U.S. Forest Service, the County Engineer Deot, WATH radio or O'Grady at the Athens County Health Department, 592-4431.