FOLEY – The city of Foley celebrated more than four decades as a Tree City on Saturday, Feb. 25 by honoring the past efforts of three community members and giving out dozens of trees to grow into the future.

The city handed out saplings including several varieties of oaks along with maples and other varieties of tree during the even at the Coastal Alabama Farmers’ and Fishermen’s Market.

“Today we mark the 42nd year being a tree city here in Foley, Alabama,” Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich said. He praised the efforts by community members over those decades to make Foley a greener and more beautiful place.

“We could not do this without the hard work of folks here in the city of Foley; not only our Parks Department, folks that work and put on our Farmer’s Market, but one of the committees that work so hard here in Foley to beautify it,” Hellmich said. “A lot of people don’t realize behind the scene just what this group does. A lot of the parks you see downtown and the ideas come from the Beautification Committee. It’s a purely volunteer effort. It is put on by great folks who serve on this board.”

The city recognized three area residents who died in 2022. Commemorative live oaks will be planted in Foley parks in commemoration of state Rep. Steve McMillan, Frances Underwood Lager and Douglas “Frog” Blackwell.

Hellmich said that at the time McMillan died in April, he was the longest-serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

“Steve McMillan worked tirelessly to serve the needs of Baldwin County constituents and make Alabama an even better place to live, work, worship and raise a family,” Hellmich said. “His integrity and demeanor earned him the trust of House members on both sides of the aisle. Every House speaker under whom he served respected his opinion and was influenced by his council.”

Hellmich said Lager worked in Foley until her retirement at the age of 82 and served the community for decades.

“Fran was dedicated to the local community and volunteered with Relay for Life, Foley Performing Arts Center,” Hellmich said. “She served on the board of the Foley Public Library for decades and was an avid reader.”

Blackwell died Dec. 20 after serving as city parks director for many years, Hellmich said.

“Doug had a passion for the outdoors and took tremendous pride in his work maintaining, enhancing and cultivating the beautiful parks and outdoor spaces in our city. He loved his job and he worked hard to make his family and the city proud,” Hellmich said.

While the national Arbor Day celebration takes place April 28, Foley and many other Alabama communities get an earlier start, Ryan Peek, Coastal Management program manager for the Alabama Forestry Commission, said.

“Everything’s starting to warm up,” Peek said. “The ground’s getting soft. We’ve been doing a lot of tree planting. It’s a good time to be out enjoying Mother Nature.”

Peek said Foley was one of the first of 96 Alabama communities to be designated a Tree City USA. He said trees and parks are part of the city’s development plans.

“The city is big on green infrastructure, smart development,” Peek said. “That’s something that’s pretty important that I’ve latched on to.”

The city also added two oaks to its Century Tree program. Josh Roberts, vegetation management supervisor with Riviera Utilities, said two live oaks on property owned by Harold Hamburg were recognized.

The trees dates back to at least the 1920s, he said.

Members of the Baldwin County Master Gardeners and Boy Scout Troop 77 also took part in Foley’s 42nd annual Arbor Day event.