City of McAllen wins state award for Arbor Day event

Texas A&M Forest Service played key role in organization

McALLEN  —  The city of McAllen has won a statewide award for its McAllen Arbor Day Challenge, a bicycle and running competition that drew more than 500 athletes, according to Salvador Alemany, a Texas A&M Forest Service regional urban forester in Weslaco and an organizer of the Feb. 9 event.

The city of McAllen won a statewide award for its Arbor Day Challenge, a February event that drew more than 500 athletes and planted trees throughout the city. (Photo courtesy of Salvador Alemany)

The city of McAllen won a statewide award for its Arbor Day Challenge, a February event that drew more than 500 athletes and planted trees throughout the city. (Photo courtesy of Salvador Alemany)

The Gold Leaf – Outstanding Arbor Day Award will be presented to city officials Oct. 3 at the 34th Texas Tree Conference in Waco during the 2013 Texas Community Forestry Awards program.

“This is a huge honor for a lot of people that made this day possible,” Alemany said. “That includes McAllen, its staff, officials, the Texas A&M Forest Service, which is a part of the Texas A&M University System, and everybody who took part in this first annual event. It was far more successful than I could have imagined,” Alemany said. “It’s especially gratifying because to win this award as McAllen competed with large cities across the state that had far more experience in planning and conducting Arbor Day activities.”

The goal of the event was to establish a permanent tree fund to help increase the canopy over the city, Alemany said. To that end, the event raised almost $16,000.

“To celebrate and promote Arbor Day, we decided to create community involvement,” he said. “We did that by announcing a bicycle race, a bicycle tour, 5K and 10K races, and a family walk. The public responded with 565 people registering for these events.”

Registration fees for the events brought in just over $11,000, and sponsor income boosted the total event revenue to $15,895.

“We had 50 volunteers, 25 booths and the city of McAllen closed off a major five-lane thoroughfare in McAllen, Bicentennial Avenue, between Pecan and Nolana avenues, a distance of about four miles,” Alemany said. “We gave away 300 trees to the first 300 who registered for any event and planted 77 trees during the day.”

Mark Kroeze, McAllen city forester and an event organizer, said the long-term goal is to increase McAllen’s tree canopy to at least 20 percent.

“Behavioral studies have shown that urban trees have a positive effect on the psychological and emotional well-being of residents. Trees planted in downtown areas have even been shown to contribute to increased commerce,” he said.

The Arbor Day event was a project of Keep McAllen Beautiful, a non-profit organization established in 1976 to promote beautification projects.

Its executive director, Scott McKeon, said the award was especially gratifying because of the city’s triumph over the competition.

“This award is a huge blessing,” he said. “It’s something that not only the city of McAllen, but the entire region, should be proud of because we came out ahead of the big metroplexes like Houston, Austin and Dallas. It’s very difficult to compete with cities that large, especially in the areas of ecology, conservation and awareness.”

McKeon said the event and award were only possible because of the support of the city, event participants, vendors and sponsors.

“Our goal now is to make the event more solid, a smoother operation that is more enjoyable for the spectator. We don’t want to overreach; the immediate focus is to improve the quality of the event before we increase participation.”

Preparations are already underway for the 2014 Arbor Day Challenge, scheduled to take place on Jan. 25.

“The 2014 event will include what’s called bicycle ‘criterion’ races,” Alemany said. “These are races against time that are recorded for national ratings and sanctioned by the U.S. Cycling Association. Our criterion races will very likely to draw participants and spectators from throughout the state, Mexico and beyond.”

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