YAKIMA, Wash. — A walk through the Yakima Area Arboretum on Saturday was like taking a trip through Alice’s looking glass: woodland creatures peeking out from underneath evergreens, a bear statue welcoming visitors to the “Enchanted Woods,” and more than 30 booths beyond, where those attending the 20th annual Arbor Festival could pick up ladybugs and trees to take home or stop to pet a goat, a baby pig or a walking stick insect.
The theme for this year’s event was “A Walk in the Woods,” a light-hearted topic that allowed children and Arbor Festival attendees to enjoy a touch of magic while learning about what people can do to help urban and wild forests, said Garrett Brenden, the arboretum’s education coordinator.
National Arbor Day, a day dedicated annually to public tree-planting, is April 26. Yakima’s weekend event celebrated the city, state, and national event and also spring, conservation, and natural science with hands-on learning stations, crafts, and displays at its 31 booths sponsored by local and state nonprofit organizations.
About 600 lucky families got to take home their own tree sapling, including the Lechuga family. Carolina Lechuga watched as her 7-year-old son, Alissio, assiduously scooped dirt into a plastic pot containing the eastern redwood sapling he had picked out.
“He wanted to come out and learn more about the nature,” Lechuga said, laughing as Alissio carried the precious potted tree over to her. “He really likes the tree.”
Jheri Ketcham, who helped supervise the tree-planting, said the purpose of the station was to teach children and their families how to plant and care for the trees. A number of different options — including shady red maples, shorter Chinese dogwoods, drought-resistant trident maples and purple smoke trees, and nearly indestructible redbud saplings — allowed families to choose a tree that would thrive with their yard’s living conditions, Ketcham said.
“We have a line here,” Ketcham said, gesturing to about a dozen people queued near the Tree Cafe station despite the rainy weather. “People are interested, and they’re asking good questions about how to care for the trees.”
Ketcham, who has volunteered at area arbor festivals for years, said what’s most rewarding about her involvement is collecting “stories.”
“People come back year after year and tell me about the trees,” she said. “They tell me how big their trees are now, and how they’re doing. That’s my favorite part.”
Other popular destinations at the event were a Lego building station and a booth set up by the Yakima Rock and Mineral Club where children could touch petrified wood samples and take home polished pieces of brightly-colored agate or jasper.
“Kids love collecting rocks, and we want to get them involved,” said Alice Harmon, the group’s secretary. “Kids have to get out of the screens and their electronics and get outdoors.”
Children also had fun panning for treasures at a station set up by the Wenas Mammoth Foundation, whose exhibit included information about mammoth bones found in the area. The foundation also offers summer camps for children, for which four scholarships currently are still available.
“Our whole purpose is to inspire young minds, to show that science can be fun,” said Doug Mayo, the foundation’s president. “You don’t see many children older than 10 here, which is unfortunate because there is good education here.”
Charles “Chip” Rognlie, the arborist for the city of Yakima, also was on site to teach families about the area’s “urban” forest. Rognlie’s booth had a map showing the locations of more than 6,500 trees planted around the city.
Rognlie said it was the first year that he had set up a booth at an arbor festival and that he was happy with the turnout and the chance to raise awareness.
“I wanted to start educating citizens about Yakima and about our trees,” he said. “It’s fun to educate the kids and get them interested.”
Brenden said the event requires about a year of planning and coordinating more than 100 volunteers. He was grateful to the community for the good turnout, sponsorships and support, which allow the event to remain free and open to everyone.
“It takes a village to put on an event like this,” Brenden said. “We are always blown away by the community support.”