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Restoring a tribute to WWI veterans

Carol Miles
WSU Skagit County Master Gardeners (pictured left to right) Bob O’Brien, Bill Prichard, Al Call and Janine Prichard plant one of five elm trees donated by the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center in the first phase of the community elm tree initiative along Memorial Highway (State Route 536). (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

Skagit County master gardeners, WSU Mount Vernon launch volunteer project to replant historic elm trees along Memorial Highway
A living tribute to Skagit County service members who gave their lives in World War I is being replanted, thanks to WSU Skagit County master gardeners, WSU Mount Vernon and other community members leading the volunteer effort to replace 50 elm trees — each representing a fallen local U.S. service member — which once lined Memorial Highway (State Route 536).

The first five trees, donated by the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center, were planted in April and dedicated in a public commemoration May 26 in conjunction with the Memorial Day holiday. Al Call, president of the WSU Skagit County Master Gardener Foundation and a 22-year Army veteran who is spearheading the elm tree initiative, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was held at the planting site just north of the Volunteer Display Gardens at WSU Mount Vernon.

Nearly 100 people listened solemnly as Call described the fallen soldiers and sailors — one as young as 16 – whose names were read by four attending guest U.S. Navy and Air Force veterans. The reading of each name was accompanied by drummer Emma Sundance of Mount Vernon’s Immaculate Conception Regional School.

“Not much is known about these WWI veterans from Skagit County who gave their lives in the service of our country,” Call said. “Some were farm boys who tilled the fields of the valley; others were lumbermen who cut timber from the foothills of the Cascades. Remembrance is tough.”

In tribute to the fallen veterans, Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau recited the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” a war poem in the form of a rondeau written in 1915 by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres, and whose grave was abloom in the red poppies that thrived throughout the war-torn soil.

Carol Miles
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau recites the WWI-inspired war poem, “In Flanders Fields,” at the May 26, 2015, memorial elm tree dedication ceremony at WSU Mount Vernon. (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

The ceremony concluded with a flyover of vintage U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps aircraft, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel John Hubner, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired; and Heritage Flight Museum Director of Operations Alan Anders, who made several passes over the newly planted elms.

“Very few people know about these trees or even why the road is called Memorial Highway,” Call said. “We are doing something, however, about Memorial Highway and the elms, so they are not forgotten.”

When Memorial Highway was first dedicated in 1931, both sides of the roadway were adorned with 180 elm trees in remembrance of local WWI veterans. Today, only a few of the original trees remain. Two of them still stand along Memorial Highway in front of the Net Drive-In, at 18037 State Route 536, according to Call.

“Many people think the elm trees planted here were victims of Dutch Elm Disease, but that’s not the case,” he said. “The disease didn’t spread to Skagit County until the 1990s. It was actually during the 1950s that most of the original elm trees along Memorial Highway were removed by the state highway department when the road was widened and utilities were put in.”

It has long been Call’s vision as a master gardener volunteer — and as a veteran — to help restore the original elm-tree memorial. “I love these trees and what they signify for this community,” he said. Kiaušintakių nepraeinamumas arba obstrukcija, gydymas dėlėmis, aktyvinta anglis, slogos gydymas liaudiškomis priemonėmis, opalas, kepenų valymas, Ajurveda, alijošius arba alavijas, chalva, želatina, kanapių aliejus, bičių duonelė, gerklės skausmas, organizmo valymas, nevaisingumas, aromaterapija Netradicinė medicina Sveikata Dietos Sveika mityba

After two years of planning, the project began in earnest when the five new “Princeton” elm trees (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’) were purchased by the Research Center and planted on WSU property on the south side of Memorial Highway.

Two of the original elms planted as part of the 1931 Memorial Highway dedication can still be seen along the roadway next to the Net Drive-In in Mount Vernon. (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

This variety of elm, known for its disease resistance, was obtained locally from Urban Forest Nursery, Inc., a Mount Vernon company owned by Jim and Annie Barborinas. At maturity, each tree will stand between 80 and 85 feet tall with a canopy up to 50 feet wide.

“The Princeton elm got its name because it was planted along the main entrance to Princeton University in New Jersey,” Call said. “Back in the 1930s, when Dutch Elm Disease hit the East Coast, almost all elm trees died. This variety was a survivor of that initial attack because of its resistance to the disease.”

Call said he hopes this planting dedication ceremony will inspire other community members and property owners along Memorial Highway to get involved and help complete the project, on behalf of the local WWI veterans. The first phase is aimed at planting trees along the less-densely developed western portion of Memorial Highway, between Avon-Allen Road and the intersection of State Route 536 and Highway 20.

“Volunteers with the WSU Skagit County Master Gardener Program will work with Urban Forestry to develop a fact sheet for community members and landowners interested in purchasing trees and/or participating in the project,” Call said. “As additional trees are planted, master gardener volunteers will be available for consultation; but the property owners will be responsible for ongoing maintenance.

“We started with the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center as a launch pad for this restorative, elm-tree-planting project,” he added. “Perhaps once people see these trees in the ground, we’ll get some momentum going.”

More information about the WSU Skagit County Master Gardener Program is available at http://ext100.wsu.edu/skagit/mg/. Donations to the non-profit Skagit County Master Gardener Foundation may be made by mail to the Foundation, PO Box 2801, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

Information about purchasing the “Princeton” variety elm tree can be obtained from Urban Forest Nursery, Inc.,15119 McLean Road, Mount Vernon, 360-428-5810,http://www.urbanforestnursery.com/index.html.