New Arbor Day tradition takes root in Windermere

The Windermere Tree Board hosted its Drive-Thru Tree Giveaway last weekend.

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Every year, the town of Windermere residents look forward to a special free tree giveaway organized by the Tree Board

But how did this tradition start? Why does the town give away trees? The hidden story dates back more than 15 years ago. 

Started in 1976, Tree City USA is one of the Arbor Day Foundation’s oldest programs and initially operated in 42 communities in 16 states. 

Now, almost 50 years later, the program includes more than 3,600 communities from all 50 states. 

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the Tree City USA program provides communities with a four-step framework to maintain and grow their tree cover. 

“It (the program) also gives them (the community) an avenue to celebrate their work, showing residents, visitors and the entire country that they’re committed to the mission of environmental change,” the foundation said. 

The town of Windermere has been a part of Tree City USA for 27 years. 

Windermere Tree Board Chair Susan Carter said there are requirements to be part of program. The Windermere Tree Giveaway is only one of the many ways the board fulfills its commitment. 

“We are an all-volunteer committee that promotes tree education and focuses on topics like the value of having trees, offering planting classes, protecting the canopy, explaining our tree ordinance to residents, and making sure that it is followed,” Carter said. 

In the past, the board helped to put together the annual Windermere Treebute, which featured a tree giveaway, a tree climbers competition with “Legends of the Geezers,” educational programs such as one organized by the Windermere Garden Club, presentations by the Audubon Birds of Prey and much more. 

Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

“With COVID happening, our trees in need of a break from climbing, construction on the town facilities and limited space, we needed to figure out something new,” Carter said. 

In 2021, the board created an entirely new tradition — a Drive-Thru Tree Giveaway in honor of Arbor Day. 

The event was a huge success and will return for 2022. 

On Saturday, Jan. 22, the Windermere Tree Board, with the help of the Windermere Garden Club and the Windermere Active Youth Committee, hosted the drive-thru event in a public parking lot located on the corner of West Fifth Avenue and Forest Street. 

Residents followed directional signage and joined a line of cars for the limited contact giveaway. 

“We needed to ensure the health of our community and this was the perfect solution,” Carter said. 

Attendees were then able to choose from a detailed tree menu with a plethora of selections, including the red maple, sweet bay magnolia, dahoon holly, turkey oak and eastern red bud. 

“This year, we tried to bring in a huge variety of trees like understory trees, flowering trees and hardwoods,” Carter said. “Our goal is to bring in species that people have a space for and also want. We try to diversify the canopy so that if any unforeseen force comes through that targets a specific species of tree, not all of them would be destroyed and we could keep our canopy strong.”

Volunteers then brought the selected trees to each car, with no need for residents to get out or do any heavy lifting. 

The trees were available for town residents who resided inside the 2.2 square miles of incorporated Windermere. Leftover trees were then available for purchase after 1 p.m. for those who resided outside the boundaries. 

Carter said the board usually brings in about 120 to 130 trees for the giveaway. 

“We always also encourage placing the right tree in the right place,” she said. “You don’t want a large tree under a power line or in a drain field. We ask residents to look at the spacing in their yard and put the tree in the best location.”

Carter’s passion for trees began at an early age.  Growing up in a green area on an island outside of Savannah, Georgia, with her dad as a forester, she was always around trees. 

“Everybody’s got a spirit animal; well, mine is a tree,” she said, laughing. “For me, the trees are where I find comfort. Luckily, we live in an area and town that recognizes the importance and contributions of our trees and honors our passion for the program.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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