But it wasn’t the typical materialistic contest-style prizes that had residents lined up in the Fred’s department store parking lot Monday afternoon in Anniston. The Arbor Day crowd was actually waiting to get their hands on some free trees.
The Calhoun County Beautification Board started the tradition of handing out trees on Arbor Day 15 years ago, said David West, Calhoun County’s Extension coordinator. Every year the board, made up of volunteers, selects a different spot in the county for the giveaway.
“We try to go to different districts and encourage people to plant trees,” West said. “Just educate people a little bit about the importance of planting.”
This year, the board gave away 2,000 trees, including several cherry trees in honor of Monday’s other holiday – President’s Day.
Arbor Day nationally falls in April, but different states recognize the day throughout the Spring, West said. In Alabama, it’s important to get trees into the ground before the heat picks up.
“Ideally, you’d want to plant in the fall so they have all winter to get their roots in,” West said. “But if you’re going to get them in the spring, February is the best month to do it before it gets too hot in April and May.”
And county residents Monday seemed like they were in a planting mood.
“We got three of them last year, and we were so impressed by how well they’ve grown,” said Oxford resident Mark Milam. “They were just little sticks like this and by the end of the summer they were five feet tall.”
But not everybody in the crowd Monday was a repeat customer. White Plains resident Steve Wilson said he just happened to be passing by the area and saw the Arbor Day signs and decided to stop and get a tree.
“I’m a tree lover,” Wilson said with a laugh. “I always look out for the sales, but these are just free. I’ll be back next year.”
For Ohatchee resident Sheila Crider, a few free trees could go a long way toward rebuilding her property. She said the April 2011 tornadoes destroyed her home.
“It ruined everything,” Crider said while grabbing a young sapling. “I thought a free tree isn’t a bad way to start over.”
Besides just aesthetics, trees are important for the environment, said David Butler. It’s why he said he drove all the way from his home in Delta, just to snag a few of them for his yard.
“It’s good for the atmosphere, just the air,” Butler said. “They’re cutting down so many trees, we need to plant some more. It helps with pollution; it just helps.”
Calhoun County residents still have a chance to get a free tree if they missed the Arbor Day celebration on Monday. Extra trees will be given away at separate events later this week in Jacksonville and Piedmont. For more information, contact the Calhoun County Extension Office at 256-237-1621.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.