For the third straight year, the University of North Georgia has been designated as a Tree Campus USA by the Georgia Forestry Commission.
This time it is much more than a state recognition.
"We have become an example to other institutions about the importance of tree status," said Dr. Allison Bailey, associate professor of environmental studies with the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis at UNG. "We have been mentoring faculty members on other Georgia college campuses and helping them establish service-learning projects that they can apply on their campuses."
Developing and maintaining a service-learning project is one of the five components required to receive the Tree Campus designation. In fact, a service-learning project involving mapping skills and identifying trees launched UNG's application for its first designation.
In 2016, Bailey suggested several service-learning projects to students in one of her classes. They chose to identify and map the 677 trees on UNG's Gainesville Campus. The idea then spread to the other four campuses as students volunteered to collect the data.
"They didn't just count the trees," Bailey said. "They documented their species. They saw whether the tree was healthy or if it had a disease or a bug infestation."
Students shared the data with UNG's groundskeepers and together developed a campus tree-care plan, which was a second component of the Tree Campus designation. UNG faculty and students met the other three requirements: a tree advisory committee, dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree program and an Arbor Day observance. The school was awarded its first Tree Campus designation in 2016.
The work, however, did not stop. Bailey and UNG students on all campuses continue to monitor tree health and mark any losses or gains. For example, trees increased on the Gainesville Campus in 2018 when Nighthawk Way was built. Trees were planted near the sidewalks.
Students on the Oconee Campus took the tree inventory one step further. In October 2018, they identified and mapped the trees in Oconee Veterans Park. Based on the data, Oconee Parks and Recreation then devised a plan to guide officials with their tree care and maintenance.
This fall, students in Carrie Allen's forest ecology class expanded on Bailey's data. In fall 2018, only 500 trees were identified and mapped on the Dahlonega Campus. Allen's students added 500 more by the end of the semester, corrected any misidentified trees and noted any health changes.
"We had an amazing data set at the beginning," Allen said. "The students and Dr. Bailey did fantastic work. It was a great jumping off point for my students. They were able to see what other students had accomplished and build on top of that. It was a great example of a collaboration between students from across different campuses."
She said the project was a hit with her students. Kayla Lindsey, a senior pursuing a degree in biology, agreed.
"It was a good introduction on how to do field work," the 22-year-old from Duluth said. "And it reinforced the material we learned in class. Now I drive all of my friends insane because I can say 'that's silver maple' or 'that's a river birch.'"
Bailey said UNG is mirroring the efforts of the communities where the university is based. For example, Dahlonega and Gainesville each were designated as Tree City USA in 2018. In 2017, both of those and Watkinsville were Tree City recipients. All three are home to UNG campuses.
The number of Tree City and Tree Campus designations also rose in 2018. Nine more cities and two more campuses were recognized. Bailey said it shows the knowledge about the importance of trees has grown.
"Trees are important aesthetically by making a campus beautiful," she said. "But they also provide shade, giving students a comfortable place to sit, study and relax. They also reduce the heat index from the concrete and asphalt on our campus."