Arbor Day Honors City’s 31st Year as Tree City USA

Matthew Mrizek of the Georgia Forestry Commission presents Mayor John Gayle with the Tree City USA award, marking the 31st consecutive year that the City of Valdosta has received the award for its management of trees in Valdosta’s urban forest. 

The City of Valdosta was honored on Feb. 17 by the Georgia Forestry Commission as a Tree City USA for its 31st consecutive year at the annual Arbor Day event, sponsored by the Valdosta Tree Commission. The event was held at the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, following a weeklong celebration of trees and their benefits to the community.

“I’m proud of our community’s long-standing commitment to the planting and maintenance of our urban forest and to the overall commitment to environmental stewardship, so that our city will be green and sustainable and attractive for generations to come,” said Mayor Gayle, who accepted the Tree City USA designation. “Of the 536 cities in Georgia, only 135 cities are Tree City USA communities—and only nine of the 135 cities have held the honor for 31 consecutive years or more. This designation shows the long-term commitment that Valdosta has made to the investment of its trees and natural resources.”

At the event, the Valdosta Tree Commission presented the Legacy Award to the Rotary Club of Valdosta for the organization’s shared investment of the community tree canopy through the Memorial Tree Program. Rotary Club of Valdosta President Molly Deese accepted the award, accompanied by District Governor Pam Lightsey and Area Governor Steve Barnes.

Certified Arborist Charlie Marcus of Legacy Arborist Services was the guest speaker at the event and also led an educational class on trees and infrastructure in the afternoon.

A Drake Elm was planted in front of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts to honor Molly Huckaby Hardy, who was killed in 1998 when a truck bomb exploded outside the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya where Molly was stationed. (In photo from left): Valdosta Councilmember Vivian Miller-Cody; Molly Deese, Rotary Club President and Wild Adventures VP; Emily Davenport, Valdosta Assistant Engineering Director; Valdosta City Councilman Alvin Payton, Jr.; William Hardy and Brandi Plants, relatives of Molly Huckaby Hardy; Bette Bechtel, Former Valdosta City Councilmember and Past Tree Commission Member; John Gayle, Valdosta Mayor; Cheryl Oliver, Executive Director of the Turner Center for the Arts; Sandra Tooley, Valdosta City Councilmember; and Amy Hall, Valdosta Tree Commission Chair.

Following the ceremony a Drake Elm was planted in front of the Turner Center for the Arts to honor Molly Huckaby Hardy, a Valdosta native who served the State Department for more than 25 years at Foreign Service posts around the world. On August 7, 1998, Hardy and more than 200 others were killed when truck bombs exploded outside the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya (where Hardy was stationed) and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her ex-husband and friend William Hardy and daughter Brandi Plants were also in attendance at the event.

The Tree City USA program was established by the Arbor Day Foundation, along with the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service, to improve community forestry. There are more than 3,400 Tree City USA communities across the nation, representing 135 million citizens.

In 1973, former Valdosta City Councilmember Bette Bechtel introduced the first Tree and Landscape Ordinance to the Mayor and Council, which was passed unanimously in 1974. In 1984, the city formed the Valdosta Tree Commission. The efforts, education, and vision of these early leaders has led to a city recognized for its beauty, its urban tree canopy, and its commitment to trees and their important place in the quality of life of our city.

In 1990, the city hired a full-time Arborist to bring more emphasis and education and to work with the community to plant, preserve and protect our urban tree canopy. The city’s tree and landscape ordinance had significant changes in 1994 and in 2000.  In that particular year, the tree commission, general contractors, developers, homebuilders and others came together to agree upon a balanced ordinance, one that allowed development so that the city could grow and prosper, but one that encouraged preservation of specimen trees and included reasonable requirements for tree planting, tree maintenance, greenspace and landscaping. Over the years, the city has streamlined their Arbor Division with the Engineering Department to streamline operations and further enhance the management of our urban forest.   

Visit the photo gallery on the City of Valdosta’s new website to view photos of the event.  For more information, visit

Posted by Sementha Mathews Friday, February 17, 2017 5:14:00 PM Categories: Engineering Press Release Public Information