Call it planting with a purpose.

In observation and celebration of Earth Day and Arbor Day, the Fox Valley Park District this week planted four young trees at three of its parks.

And with each shovel of dirt pitched over their roots came a very specific – and intentional – message, as the community navigates through these challenging times.

Chris Kuehn, the FVPD’s manager of arborculture, lake management and integrated pest management, explained the meaning behind each new tree.

At Blackhawk Park, the Catalpa produces white flowers in the spring, “so we saw it as a sign of hope for everybody.”

Also at Blackhawk, the White Oak – state tree of Illinois – was planted “as a reminder of community, of unity, and that we’re all in this together.”

Over at Lincoln Park, the Chinkapin Oak is used to make railroad ties, “so that’s in honor of all the people fighting through these times and delivering us our goods.”

Lastly, at Waubonsie Lake Park – the FVPD’s closest to Rush-Copley Medical Center – the London Planetree features strong, supportive roots, “so we planted that in honor of all of our first responders and medical staff, because they’re the selfless ones who stand on our front line of defense against the virus.”

The FVPD operates within a species diversity plan, meaning a wide variety of trees are planted in its 168 parks, noted John Kramer, director of operations.

“We want a diverse population of trees,” Kramer said, “so if the Emerald Ash Borer strikes again to maples, for example, we wouldn’t lose every tree in a given park because they’re all maples.”

The FVPD strives to be a responsible steward of the environment in all of its operational decision-making.

Since Earth Day 2019, the FVPD has been powered 100% on Green Energy through wind. Additionally, two months ago, Kramer brought online the FVPD’s first 100% solar-powered facility – the Greenhouse, which is located in Lincoln Park.

Through a partnership with ComEd and Progressive Energy Group, the FVPD’s local energy provider, the FVPD installed solar panels on the roof of the Greenhouse. On sunny days, when the panels fully grab solar energy, it’s more than plenty to provide electricity to the Greenhouse, “so we give the remainder back to the grid,” Kramer said. “At the end of the month, we get a bill or credit back, so we pull for sunny days.

“It was all paid for on a power purchase agreement, meaning we didn’t pay a dime for the solar.”

Responsible conservation and sustainability practices remain a top priority for the FVPD, and directly support a pillar in its mission to “enrich the community … through environmentally and fiscally responsible actions.”

“Our main focus is making sure that we take advantage of as many sustainable practices as possible, both environmentally and financially,” Kramer said. “We weigh the cost of alternative vehicles, using alternative methods for powering our buildings versus the up-front, initial costs, the long-range costs and what the ultimate reduction is on our impact to the environment.”