Life in The Maple City: A Historical Lens on Our Budding Forest
Every spring I’m amazed how happy the sun’s warmth can make me feel. The trees are still as bare as the winter but scilla and squirrels are popping up, giving some color and life to the land. Birds are chirping, drivers have their windows down, and students are sprawled out on the campus lawn. It’s a good time to be in Goshen.
Looking around on campus I’m struck with the idea that others decades ago planted these huge trees. In Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley’s Goshen News column, the Naturalized Mid-American, he often reflects on Goshen’s trees and their stories. In “A tree with a history tied to Kunderd gladiolus farm,” he describes the fruitful life of an elm tree over the past 50 years.
Scilla blooming on GC campus, April 11th 2018
Our trees’ benefits are exciting but sadly their history does not begin that way. The history of how our trees came to be starts with our shared American history of human and environmental genocide. Our present actions hope to honor and celebrate Native American lives and native landscapes we shattered, but the ecological devastation around us still has a long way to go.
The Land of Goshen was founded in 1831. That name, along with the tree population in the area, was eventually reduced. The forest cover in Goshen was diminished to 2% during the first half of the 1800s. By the 1900s, people began to realize what trees could mean for Goshen. More and more plantings, especially of maples, were happening all over our part of the world. But only Goshen would come to be known as The Maple City. During a talk at Greencroft in late 2017, our city forester went into depth about our forest’s history. You can watch that video or read the transcript here.
In the late 20th century, mayors and interested citizens alike pushed us to accept our namesake of The Maple City. Seeing the potential of our urban forest, they created the Goshen Tree Board. The momentum did anything but slow once Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley was hired in 2006 as our first city forester. With Aaron’s teachings and urgings, more and more people are engaging with the land they live on. In “Nostalgia swamps grandson during morning prayers,” he emphasizes how much has changed in our landscape over past generations. Trees that were just sticks are now 35-foot giants.
Within the past few years, our Parks & Recreation Department has been working hard to help our urban forest blossom. The 2014-2018 Master Plan for our parks outlines the ways our city is making a better future for us. This nurturing of our Maple City has helped create and will continue to create notable landscapes, intimate parks, and senses of ownership and pride in our beautiful city.