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Centennial Trees Program

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June 1 PHOTO - Caption - Centennial Grove on the North Dakota Capitol Grounds in Bismarck. Photo by Jack Dura.jpg
Jack Dura
Centennial Grove on the North Dakota Capitol Grounds in Bismarck.

Plans to observe North Dakota’s centennial of statehood in 1989 involved more than just a celebration. The state’s Centennial Commission set an ambitious goal in 1987 to plant 100 million trees by the year 2000 – 1 million trees for every year of statehood, to honor pioneers who planted trees on the open prairie. The Centennial Trees Program was to be a “‘living legacy’ that will serve as a lasting reminder for future generations to enjoy.”

The North Dakota Forest Service, State Game and Fish Department, city forestry departments and soil conservation districts made plans – from planting new trees in small town parks to developing large acreages, called “centennial forests,” containing thousands of trees.

The Legislature established a trust fund and a voluntary tax checkoff for contributions for the planting. Interest in the program was so high right off the bat that the 1989 tree stocks at nurseries in Bismarck and Towner were claimed by mid-February.

The most high-profile planting was that of President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Bismarck to honor North Dakota’s centennial. He planted an elm outside the Capitol, but gypsy moth larvae and winter weather led to the tree’s demise in 1990.

Governor George Sinner planted trees in the hometowns of former North Dakota governors. Near the end of his term in 1992, he raced around the state by plane in one day to plant trees in McClusky, Larimore, Park River and Pembina.

Each Arbor Day, the state forester announced the annual and cumulative tree plantings, which numbered about 5 million to 7 million annually through the mid-1990s. Organizers realized by 1993 they were falling short, and by 1998, they knew they wouldn’t meet the goal. The initiative had faced headwinds in the Legislature, and many trees planted in 1989 succumbed to drought.

On this date in 2000, The Bismarck Tribune reported more than 66.7 million trees had been planted. Centennial Grove, on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck, symbolizes the planting program. President Bush dedicated the grove during his 1989 visit. And as you drive I-94 by Jamestown, look to the north. Perhaps you can see the town’s centennial forest.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Centennial Trees Program: State Historical Society of North Dakota, State Archives history.nd.gov/archives/stateagencies/centennialtrees.html#:~:text=CENTENNIAL%20TREES%20COMMISSION%20The%20Centennial%20Decade%20Trees%20Committee,one%20hundred%20million%20trees%20by%20the%20year%202000.
Centennial Grove: omb.nd.gov/capitol-complex/arbortetum-trail/capitol-complex-tree-and-shrub-donations
The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, February 12. Page C1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, November 19. Page F1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1990, July 27. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1992, September 24. Page 12
The Bismarck Tribune. 1992, October 4. Page D1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1993, May 6. Page 11
The Bismarck Tribune. 1999, August 31. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 2000, June 1. Page 6
The Trees Tradition. Number 1. Spring 1990. Obtained from North Dakota State Library, Bismarck, ND
Centennial Trees Commission History. 1 page. Obtained from North Dakota State Library, Bismarck, ND.
North Dakota Forest Service. (1995). Anticipate to celebrate: “Planting 100 million trees by the year 2000.” Obtained from North Dakota State Library, Bismarck, ND

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