FOLEY – Foley marked 43 years as a Tree City with an Arbor Day celebration and a challenge to continue efforts to increase the number of trees in the city.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, the city gave out about 630 saplings during Arbor Day events at the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermens Market. Varieties of trees given away included live oaks, willow oaks, giant green arborvitae, three different kinds of holly and holiday juniper. 

Mayor Ralph Hellmich said he hoped that residents and officials will continue efforts to plant trees. While Foley has extensive tree coverage, many trees have been lost due to storms, such as Hurricane Sally in 2020, and other causes.

“We lost a lot of trees during Hurricane Sally. Auburn University came in and surveyed our city and found that about 40% of our canopy was damaged or destroyed,” Hellmich said.

“So we’re going to be looking for places to plant trees and replacing the ones in our parks that were lost. Over this coming year or two, we’re going to be making a maximum effort to get more live oaks. We lost so many,” the mayor added.

Hellmich said that most of the oaks and other trees around Foley were planted by residents since the community was founded. Foley was established on what had been cleared timber land around the beginning of the 20th century. Very few trees are visible in early photos of the town.

“Foley over the years has turned into Tree City,” he said. “But if you look at our early days of the early 1900s, when Foley was founded, and some of the old pictures in Stacey’s drugstore or in our museums, you’ll see there wasn’t a tree for 10 miles around here. It was all cut down.”

He said he hopes that residents will carry on the tradition of planting trees to improve Foley.

“We’re going to be looking for places replacing the ones in our parks that were lost,” Hellmich said. “So over this coming year or two, we’re going to be making a maximum effort to get more live oaks.”

Events on Saturday at the market also included the first Coastal Garden Festiva. The event  included several vendors with nursery items, including citrus trees.

Hellmich said the festival helped bring more people to the celebration than any other previous Arbor Day event in more than 40 years.

“This is exactly why we wanted to build a farmers market so we can have market days and programs and to showcase our local growing season,” Hellmich said. “So this Arbor Day is perfect for what we have here at the farmers market.”

Hellmich said the turnout showed that Foley residents are still interested in planting trees and beautifying the community.

“Thank you all for showing up today and we appreciate the intensity of people wanting to plant trees,” he said. 

During the Arbor Day celebration, the city also dedicated three live oak trees in memory of people who have contributed to improving Foley.

One tree will be planted in recognition of Sara Thompson. That tree will be in Max Griffin Park near the Sara Thompson Kids Park. Thompson, an elementary school teacher, was one of the organizers of the effort to create the park, which was later named for her.

Another tree will be planted on the Perry Wilbourne Rose Trail in memory of Deputy Police Chief Randy Bishop. That tree will be within view of the Foley Police Department building.

A third tree will be planted  in memory of Anthony and Dee Kaiser at the Graham Creek Memorial Walk.

The city also presented two Century Tree plaques recognizing trees that are at least 100 years old.

One plaque was presented to Margaret Krupinski and in recognition of her late husband John for their live oak located at the Krupinski Farm. 

Another plaque will be presented to Dustin and Felicia Parrish to be placed near their oak tree on Waverly Lane.

The national Tree City program began in 1976 with about 20 cities beginning the effort to plant more trees around the country. Foley was one of the first Alabama cities to take part in the program in the early 1980s.