SHERIDAN — After the digging, staking, mulching and watering concluded, Sheridan College grounds department employees had officially planted the school’s 500th tree Monday during an Arbor Day event.

The planting of a tatarian maple tree in front of the Whitney Academic Center occurred a few days in advance of Arbor Day on Friday, April 26.

The college has done similar Arbor Day events for the past six years, and this week’s event happened to coincide with Earth Day.

Two separate plantings occurred Monday morning. Eight students from Sheridan College biology instructor Scott Newbold’s class attended the second planting. Sheridan College grounds department supervisor Zack Houck led the event and said teachers and students from both Sheridan College and the John C. Schiffer Collaborative School attended the first planting.

The recent tree introductions at Sheridan College began in earnest in 2013, the same year the college earned a Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. Sheridan College is the only campus in Wyoming to receive the distinction.

The rare designation and significant planting of new trees over the past six years are parts of a larger tree canopy management plan at Sheridan College. In 2012, the Wyoming State Forestry Division asked Houck about taking inventory of all the trees on campus. Houck agreed, and he and his crew did geographic information system mapping of the campus and measured every individual tree multiple times over the course of several days.

Kelly Norris, district forester with the Wyoming State Forestry Division, worked with Houck on the initial inventory process and helped design the management plan.

Houck said the data collection played a crucial role in the college’s tree plans over the next seven years.

“You have to know what you have before you want to expound on that,” Houck said.

In total, Houck and his crew have planted 203 trees and had a 44 percent tree species diversity increase since 2013. They want to have age and species variety among the canopy. Some trees are brand new, while others are nearly 80 years old. There are 42 total species of trees on the Sheridan College campus, and at least one more — an American hornbeam — will be planted this year.

Before the tatarian maple found its new home Monday, Houck and Norris provided some background on the college’s management plan and explained the planting process to students. That discussion lasted about 35 minutes and is part of the service learning aspect required of a Tree Campus USA school.

In order to keep the Tree Campus USA designation, Houck must submit detailed annual reports that provide evidence and align with five Arbor Day Foundation standards. Those standards are: have a campus tree advisory committee; create a campus tree care plan; submit dedicated annual expenditures; host an Arbor Day observation and have service learning projects.

The advisory committee at Sheridan College includes students, faculty and community members. The campus tree care plan involves goals, targets, tree damage assessments and prohibitive practices. Houck said the main point of Tree Campus USA status involves educating people about the trees and what the college is doing to aid its canopy.

In addition to providing oxygen for humans to breathe, Houck said trees help with heating and cooling, capturing and retaining water, improve campus aesthetics and are quality communal meeting areas.

“People gather under trees,” Houck said. “… It’s just a natural gathering space for humans.”

Challenges to the campus tree population include wildlife damage, frost and drought. Houck said snow storms have also eliminated some trees over the years.

“Those early fall or late spring snow events are really catastrophic to a tree canopy,” Houck said.

Norris added that it will be challenging to keep up with tree maintenance every year. The more trees that are planted, the more mulching and pruning work it entails for Sheridan College grounds employees.

Norris said the most rewarding part of the past seven years involves seeing Houck talk with students about the topic.

For his part, Houck has appreciated learning about the types of trees that can grow in Sheridan’s environment and sharing that knowledge with others.

“It really has been fun and eye-opening (and) enlightening for me and I think a lot of people on campus just to learn what we have and what we’re doing and to stay progressive, you know, not just kind of let life go by and be reactive,” Houck said. “We’re trying to [have] a little bit more proactive stance on our tree canopy.”

Monday marked a milestone in Sheridan College’s tree maintenance process and served as a sign of more things to come.