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ISU to Celebrate Arbor Day with online ISU Campus Tree Tour, Tree Campus USA Designation

April 21, 2020

Chris Wagner points to where a tree was hit by lightning.
Chris Wagner pointing out where one of the trees on the virtual campus tree tour was hit by lightning.

POCATELLO – Coronavirus be darned – Idaho State University is celebrating Arbor Day in style with the release of a new online ISU Campus Tree Tour, following the recognition that University was designated a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation earlier this spring.

Starting Friday, April 24, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or personal computer can take an interactive online tour of 40 different trees on lower campus. To participate in the tour, visit bit.ly/IdahoStateTreeTour, and it will pull up a map showing trees on lower campus. By clicking on individual links on the map, users can see a photo of the tree and various information about the tree including its species name and age.

“This new virtual ISU Campus Tree Tour goes really well on Arbor Day with ISU’s recent recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation as a 2019 Tree Campus USA,” said Chris Wagner, ISU landscape manager. “This tour showcases some of the amazing trees we have on campus.”

A screen shot of the virtual ISU Campus Tree Tour app.In the virtual tree walk, users will be able to click on individual trees on the map and read historical information on the tree. The tree histories will include interesting facts, such as two trees were planted in honor of the Twin Towers that fell during 9/11 and another tree on campus was hit by lightning and survived.

Also in the future, trees on the tour will have small signage on them that will include a quick response, or QR, code the users will be able to scan that will take them to the description of that tree on the virtual tour. The tour begins and ends near the Idaho Museum of Natural History.

This new virtual tour builds on an original tree walk that was created in 1991 by a doctoral student and updated in the early 2000s. The paper tour included a total of 32 trees, some that have since been removed.  The new online tour has updated information on each of the remaining trees and on new trees that have been planted on campus.

The new ISU Campus Tree Tour comes courtesy of the kind of collaboration that seems to be in ISU’s DNA and included participation by Facilities Services landscaping personnel including Wagner, the ISU GIS Training and Research Center and its director Keith Weber, a biological sciences doctoral student Sophie Hill and the efforts of undergraduate geosciences Career Path Intern Shannon Brailsford who works in the GIS center.

“Keith, Sophie and Shannon turned a wish of mine into a reality,” Wagner said. “I also have to thank my wonderful staff that has continually gone out and worked on the trees and collected the data on them that is used by the virtual tour.”

An apple tree that is the first stop on the tour. Weber, director of the ISU GIS and Research Center, said that he was pleased to team up to help honor ISU’s designation by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA. The center and Facilities Services landscaping has worked together for years creating a database with information about thousands of the trees on the ISU campus.

“We’ve been using GIS web maps to do maintenance and record-keeping on about 3,000 trees on campus and set them (Facilities Services) up with a mobile app,” Weber said. “They use that app to update information for each tree --- when it was planted, when it has been pruned, when herbicide has been used --- and that information is stored in a geodatabase that is queried at a later time.”

Now, some of that information in the tree maintenance app is now being pulled and used in the new virtual ISU Campus Tree Tour. 

“At the center we’ve been doing a variety of GIS studies, some that are gigantic in scope, but with this project it takes us right back home doing a GIS project on campus,” Weber said. “It’s great to give back to the campus community.”

Image of the virtual tree tour app's QR code. Weber said the project couldn’t have been completed without the contribution of one of his GIS technicians, Brailsford, who has a Career Path Internship with the center. Brailsford noted that because of all the data available in GIS databases, the virtual ISU Campus Tree Tour can potentially be expanded to include upper campus and trees at other facilities because of all the data about thousands of campus trees in the GIS database.

“The other thing we can do is constantly update and change the tour because of all the information we have available,” Brailsford said.

The project dovetailed nicely with Doctor of Arts degree student Hill, who is completing her doctoral research on “urban, biogeochemistry” and how trees around Pocatello impact water quality.

“I am personally thrilled to be involved with this project because for part of my research I was trying to identify trees around Pocatello and I didn’t know them,” Hill said. “So being able  to get this product back up and running and available for people to help them learn about Pocatello and ISU’s trees is wonderful.”

Earlier this spring, ISU announced that it had earned the Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. The Tree Campus USA program honors colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals. ISU achieved the title by meeting Tree Campus USA’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and student service-learning project. Currently there are 385 campuses across the United States with this recognition.



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