Oneonta celebrates Arbor Day at Riverside Elementary School

Apr. 26—A Liberty apple tree was planted inside the Swart-Wilcox House Museum orchard during Oneonta's annual Arbor Day celebration Friday.

It was the second year in a row that an apple tree had been planted in the orchard to commemorate Arbor Day. The orchard was planted next to the museum to simulate the orchard Henry Wilcox had. The city received a Department of Environmental of Conservation grant to plant trees in the city, and 12 apple trees were planted in 2023. The latest addition was planted in the back corner near the fence.

Prior to helping to plant the tree, Stephen Novellano, the city's new arborist, spoke about the history of Arbor Day and the importance of trees to fifth-grade students in Toby Centerwell's and Amber Greenberg's classes.

Novellano said the person who started Arbor Day, Julius Sterling Morton, was born in Adams, New York in 1832 and moved first to Michigan and then to Nebraska, where he became an editor of a newspaper. He was Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland and proposed Arbor Day.

He said while many holidays remember the past, Arbor Day celebrates the future as you can watch the trees grow.

The benefits of trees are numerous, Novellano said. They provide wood to build houses, shelter for wildlife, food, shade, oxygen, fuel, wind blocks and sound barriers. "It is 10-degrees cooler with trees," he said. They also help hold soil in place, which decreases erosion. "The forests around here are responsible for literary taking in 40% of fossil fuels," he said.

"One really cool part is that Oneonta has the largest butternut tree in all of New York state, not too far from here," he said. "It's 7 feet, 2 inch diameter is on the registry is over on Morse Street."

Mayor Mark Drnek read a proclamation about Arbor Day and declared April 26, as Arbor Day in the city of Oneonta to continue its designation as a Tree City USA city. Drnek urged all of the city's residents, no matter their age, to "support our effort and plant a tree."

Once students helped place a shovel of dirt into the hole with the tree, they take home two bare root saplings of an evergreen tree to plant in their yards.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7221.