Susan Quintenz has lived in Bexley for 35 years, and in that time, every description she's ever read of her city focuses on trees.
"The phrase tree-lined streets is always part of the description, whether it's the first sentence or the second sentence," said Quintenz, chairwoman of the Bexley Tree and Public Garden Commission and board president of the Bexley Community Foundation.
So it's only appropriate that on Wednesday, March 20, the city became the first municipality in the country to be designated as an arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboreta.
An arboretum is a collection of trees that is monitored and catalogued. The Morton Register, based in Illinois, serves as a database of more than 775 arboretums and public gardens throughout the world that have a heavy population of woody plants.
"The certification confirms and validates what we already knew to be true: Bexley is a community within an arboretum," said Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler. "Trees in Bexley are mature, diverse, majestic and well-cared for. We value them for their shade, their natural beauty, their sustainability, their timeless character, and the way that they effortlessly punctuate the fabric and built environment of our neighborhoods."
Bexley's 14,000 street trees of 131 different species made it an obvious candidate for the distinction, but there was much more involved in getting to this point than planting and counting trees.
Tree and Public Gardens Commission member Larry Helman introduced the idea of having Bexley declared an arboretum at an annual committee work session about four years ago.
"I figured, it's fun going to a park; well, why not live in one?" he said. "We appreciate walking the streets and living under a tree canopy and walking in the park, but having this title really reinforces why we love Bexley and gives our city and the people who live here a sense of identity."
But as obvious as it may seem that Bexley is tree-centric, only keen eyes could tell the amount of thought and planning that goes into the city having so many thriving trees.
"It's not as easy as people think," Quintenz said. "We make sure that we are planting the correct tree that's consistent with the right of way so we don't have to take them down or prune them because they're not the right fit."
For example, trees along Main Street are of the London Plane species while North Broad Street's trees are from the Red Oak family. The Golden Green species are planted on Parkview Avenue because they tend to stay smaller and can grow harmoniously with the low-hanging power lines in the area, according to Quintenz. Every street has its own designated tree that keeps with the city's landscape plan, which is detailed in a catalog of all the trees in city rights of way -- many of which were planted with $500,000 given by donors to the nonprofit Trees of Bexley.
The city's effort to maintain and grow trees up to the Arbor Day Foundation's standards has earned Bexley a Tree City USA designation for the last 25 years, and in 2011, America in Bloom recognized the city for its urban forestry.
If all that's not enough to prove that trees alone didn't earn Bexley the new distinction, just ask Ginny Salamy, chairwoman of the Bexley Arboretum Committee, who filed the extensive arboretum application with Morton Registry.
In addition to filling out questionnaires about the city and sending copies of all tree databases and tree pictures, she wrote a mission statement and proposal detailing educational programs and tree-labeling plans that Bexley will put in place now that it has received the designation.
Salamy filed the application March 15, and after plenty of email exchanges with Morton Registry employees, she received the notification that Bexley qualified as a Level 2 Arboretum just five days later.
At the six-member Arboretum Committee's meeting Monday, April 1, members will discuss how the city will label different tree species and what grant programs could fund that process, Salamy said.
Quintenz said now that the designation has been given, the city's main focus will be to build educational programs not just for residents, but for legislators and planners in other cities who are interested in following Bexley's lead.
"Because we're the first community in the United States to be named an arboretum, we have this vision that people are going to be coming in from all over the country to be complimentary and to critique our urban forest to see how we were able to build it," she said. "We want to make sure we're looking really good and that we have solid information that we can give to them."