The Apalachicola Farmers Market was bustling Saturday, as the city marked its annual Arbor Day celebration.

The city of Apalachicola and its tree committee, Florida A and M University arborists Ed Duke and Sam Hand, the Florida Forestry Service, Anita Grove with the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Karen Kessel with Bring Me A Book Franklin, and Danny Collins with Duke Energy, all joined together to celebrate arbor in Florida.

Information on tree care, planting and pruning, and bay-friendly landscaping, was all distributed, along with 50 trees given away free of charge.

In his remarks, Mayor Van Johnson described how on Oct. 10, more than 200 communities across the Panhandle were severely impacted by the devastating landfall of Hurricane Michael.

“For those communities, I can only imagine that the celebration of Arbor Day 2019 will be a bittersweet occasion,” he said. “Bitter, because the celebrations will be faced with harsh realities, that today there are fewer trees in our area than just one year ago.”

He told of how the Category 4 storm, with winds that reached more than 155 miles per hour, barreled through, leaving in its path an estimated $1.3 billion loss in trees.

“Michael, the strongest recorded hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in 14 years and the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle, took with it, valuable trees that once filtered the air from pollution. Trees that produced life-sustaining oxygen and provided cool shade during the heat of the summer,” Johnson said. “Trees that once fed us and provided material to build our homes and a natural barrier that protected those homes from high winds and erosion. Trees that once served as a habitat for small animals, birds, and insects.”

The mayor said the devastating loss reminded him of lyrics from the 1970 hit single, “Big Yellow Taxi,” a Joni Mitchell song whose lyrics are very applicable to the situation:

“They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum,

and they charged all the people a dollar and a half to see them.

Don’t it always seem to go,

that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” 

Johnson said that “it is sad but true, that all too often we simply don’t realize the value of what we have until we don’t have it anymore. $1.3 billion is a significant loss of trees that will impact the Florida Panhandle for generations.

“There is now less tapestry of colorful trees to shelter us, feed us and to protect us. Therefore, every tree that we plant today and protect tomorrow will be a direct investment towards the quality of life for future generations,” he said.

“So, I humbly thank the Lord God Almighty, creator of both heaven and earth for the opportunity to be good stewards over the land that He entrusted into our care from the foundation of the world,” Johnson said. “I’m also grateful for the people of this community that fully understand the value and benefit that trees have upon the landscape of our world. Specifically, those community members who have unselfishly dedicated their valuable time serving as volunteers on our tree committee. Committee members that have worked tirelessly to strengthen our local codes and laws to protect and preserve the trees that remain.

“It is because of your efforts and in the spirit of true community that makes the 2019 celebration of Arbor Day in the historic city of Apalachicola a very sweet occasion indeed and I wholeheartedly thank each of you for the roles that you have played,” he said in closing. “Thank you for all that you do; now let’s celebrate this grand occasion by planting some much-needed trees.”