Eager Northampton tree enthusiasts can dig into gardening this weekend with a free tree, courtesy of the city's newly-organized Public Shade Tree Commission.

The Department of Public Works' Tree Crew, overseen by Tree Warden Richard C. Parasiliti, Jr., will distribute 400 free whips in front of city hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Arbor Day, Friday, April 24th, and also from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 25th, according to a press release on the event.

Those looking for a tree will be able to choose from one of four different species of tree: Hackberry, River Birch, Common Lilac, and Norway Spruce.

According to the release, the event comes as a response to a recent tree survey conducted by the city using the USDA's iTree urban forestry analysis software, which valued Northampton's existing canopy at approximately $50 million with annual benefits of over $1 million, and found that the canopy intercepts over 15 million gallons of rainwater each year, according to the press release.

The Public Shade Tree Commission, founded by Mayor Narkewicz last November, is composed of seven volunteer commissioners including a biologist, citizen advocates, urban and environmental planners, an arborist and a horticulturalist. The Commission is overseen by Parasiliti, who added Tree Warden responsibilities onto his existing role of Highway Superintendent after the mayor's Sept. 30, 2014 administrative order reorganizing the city charter, which abolished and replaced the DPW's existing Tree Committee.

“Having new Public Shade Tree Commission and a Tree Warden are the first steps toward developing a comprehensive Urban Forest Management plan for Northampton," said Parasiliti in the press release.

“Our community is very fortunate to have such highly qualified and passionate citizens interested in serving on a volunteer Public Shade Tree Commission; this speaks to how much our city cares about our public shade trees," said Narkewicz in the press release. "I’m eager to see the Commission begin its important work.”

Newly-appointed Public Shade Tree Commissioner Lilly Lombard, who is also the founder of Grow Food Northampton, has long been an active advocate for the city to adopt a comprehensive shade tree program. She organized 40 volunteers to undertake  Northampton’s first public shade tree inventory last September.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us. The climate is rapidly changing, bringing new pests, harsher storms, and extreme heat,” said Lombard in the release. “Trees are essential to us weathering and enjoying the decades ahead, so we’ve no time to lose. Where do we want our tree canopy to be in 10 years? What’s our roadmap for getting there, and what resources are do we commit to that vision? All of us on the new Public Shade Tree Commission are eager to tackle these questions."

Feature photo courtesy of USFS Region 5 via Flickr under Creative Commons.