Pax River’s 30-year old tree program still winning awards

Accompanied by personnel from the Public Works and Environmental departments, NAS Patuxent River Executive Officer Capt. John Brabazon, far left, and NAS Command Master Chief Christopher Switzer far right, hold up the flag that honors Pax River’s 30th consecutive award as a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA. The installation also won a Growth Award for work done with the community helping to prune and plant trees in Lexington Park.

When NAS Patuxent River Conservation Director Kyle Rambo first applied for Tree City USA recognition 30 years ago, there were no Navy installations and only two other DoD installations nationwide that were even participating in the program.

The National Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program has been greening up cities and towns across America since 1976. The foundation’s website describes it as a “nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees,” and Rambo wanted in on the action.

“The program was originally set up for municipalities,” explained Rambo. “It calls for a Tree Board to make decisions about plantings, a tree ordnance, a designated forestry budget, and mentions a mayor. But we [here at Pax] have our own zip code, post office, residents who live on base, there’s commerce, and people who work here. In a sense, we’re more of a community than just a military facility.”

Since that original program application, Pax River has been designated a Tree City USA every single year, and Rambo was on hand May 22 – along with NAS Patuxent River Executive Officer John Brabazon and personnel from the Public Works and Environmental departments – to accept the award for the 30th consecutive year and plant a tree in recognition of Arbor Day.

“There’s an open grassy area near the playground across the street from the Beach House where we’ve been planting a tree each year,” Rambo noted. “The plan is to eventually have a ring of trees so as the sun moves around them throughout the day, there will always be shade for parents to sit, kids to play and families to have a picnic.”

This year, the installation also received its 14th Growth Award, a recognition bestowed upon those who go above and beyond the normal Tree City USA requirements.

“When we first started, it was fairly easy to win growth awards because it’s easier to grow a young program,” Rambo said. “It gets more difficult as the years go on and your program reaches maturity.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Rambo asked where there might be room for growth elsewhere and he found his answer beyond the fenceline in the Lexington Park community, where the installation won for its part in helping to clean up the trees in the local park area known as Lexington Manor.

“We had a group of volunteer Sailors with chain saws cutting down dead trees and pruning dead limbs from oak trees,” he said. “And I was involved with community volunteers in planting new Japanese Cherry trees to replace those that had been lost. It’s a unique Navy/community partnership because the land where the park is now was the site of The Flattops, a former Navy housing area that eventually was turned over to the county for use as a public park. We’re not trying to do the county’s job, but we kind of have a role in the revitalization of Lexington Park and the beautification of the open spaces there. So we were recognized for that.”

Meanwhile, Pax River is an ongoing project.

“We’ll continue with our plan to replace all dead or dying trees with native species or proven cultivars that will grow well in our Southern Maryland climate but show no invasive or nuisance properties and traits,” Rambo added.

There are currently more than 3,500 communities participating in Tree City USA, said Lauren Weyers, marketing coordinator for the National Arbor Day Foundation, and that now includes nine naval facilities.