Stacy Arnold and Karla Wilson are unabashed tree huggers. They were recently caught hugging trees in Larson Park in preparation for the Webster-Kirkwood Mini Tree Hunt, a month-long event that begins Oct. 1.

"Trees do lots of good things for us," said Arnold. "This tree hunt is meant to get people outdoors to see just how great a tree heritage we have in our hometowns, and to see why we need to be especially vigilant in protecting our tree legacy.

"Part of the focus is to point out the benefits of all the different trees represented in our area," said Arnold. "Another focus, besides the hunt, is to ask hunters to help us put together an inventory of what trees we have. That data can be very useful for those studying issues such as flood control."

Arnold and Wilson are members of the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, and their group is "tree-mendously" excited about the October tree hunt. Twelve tree sites have been selected as arboreal destinations that must be visited in order to successfully complete the hunt.

Those who complete the hunt will have their tree identification journals validated by hunt organizers. Then, their names will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a $100 prize gift card from Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood.

However, the journey to find all the wonderful trees is the real prize for those who take up the challenge, according to Wilson, a Webster Groves resident. Tree totalers will find themselves in the canopy of some great champion trees and memorable trees of distinction.

A Kirkwood sugar maple tree on the upcoming Webster-Kirkwood hunt is in the 800 block of North Taylor Avenue and, at the ripe old age of 250 years, was dubbed a "Pioneer Tree" of distinction by the Kirkwood Urban Forestry Commission in 2003.

Near the intersection of Fairview and North Bompart avenues are four famous golden larches planted in 1981 by John Brown, who used seeds from the Missouri Botanical Garden to get the trees started. The seeds were from a tree that was a descendant of the tree given by China to the U.S. at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

Of course, the famous "Liberty Tree" in Larson Park in Webster Groves must be on any tree hunter's list. This wide, sturdy and much weathered oak tree dates from the 1776 American Revolution and is in the riparian area of Shady Grove Creek.

Likes That Liberty Tree

On a recent sunny September afternoon, Colin Faulkingham and his son, 14-year-old Julian, were scouting along the banks of Shady Grove Creek. They were in search of big trees that might be included in the October inventory project of the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance.

"My wife, Laura, home schools our two kids and she does several study units on nature and the outdoors," explained Faulkingham. "She really has Julian hooked on the outdoors and he's excited about the tree hunt and the tree inventory. This is all just a natural for him."

Julian and his dad sized up trees literally by taking measurements of trunks. None of the trees could really measure up to Julian's longtime favorite, the "Liberty Tree," which he professes to love and admire.

Webster's budding teen naturalist, Julian, is acutely aware of how Shady Grove Creek, flows into Deer Creek, which flows into the River des Peres, which curves through the region to enter into the Mississippi River. These river tributaries are known to go crazy and flash flood during torrential rains, such as occurred when the remnants of Hurricane Ike hit St. Louis in 2008.

"I know some people who almost drowned in one of those flash floods," said Julian. "They had to be rescued through a window. That's how I got interested in the inventory project, because more trees along these creeks can cut down on flash floods.

"Also, I've loved coming down here and seeing the Liberty Tree since I was a little kid," explained Julian. "I worry about losing this tree. I've been looking into the idea of whether a lightning rod could be put on it to save it if lightning hit it."

In addition to sizing up trees with his dad, Julian assisted Arnold and Wilson, who were preparing signs and tags for the tree hunt sites. Arnold's sign noted that a mature burr oak can capture more than 10,000 gallons of water runoff in a single year.

"With all the roads, development and concrete that we have in these watershed areas, trees are more important than ever to help stave off flash flooding," said Wilson. "A good leaf canopy catches water and slows the water runoff and the leaves still do some of that after they've fallen.

"And look how dry the ground is around the circumference of these oaks. They are thirsty trees. The dry ground helps absorb storm water that might otherwise go straight into the creeks," she added.

"A Good Tree Story"

Arnold and Wilson want you to know that you can join the great Webster-Kirkwood Mini Tree Hunt by simply picking up hunting directions at the Kirkwood Recreation Center or Webster Groves City Hall.

They also want you to know that you don't have to climb trees, plant signs or carry a tape measure to be involved in the tree inventory project. They encourage people to go to the website, deercreekalliance.org, to find out more details on both the hunt and the inventory project.

"You can do one, or the other, or both," said Arnold. "And you can do neither - just get out and enjoy trees. We are looking for landmark trees, trees of distinction and heritage trees. However, your average citizen just isn't really going to know how to determine the age of a tree.

"So what we are really looking for in the inventory are two things," said Arnold. "Record where you've found really big trees; and, give us a good tree story. Tell us about your favorite tree and why it's a favorite tree that needs to be preserved. Maybe it had a family of owls in it, or it was a great tree for climbing."

Sit in the shade of some ample oaks or elms with Arnold and Wilson, and they will readily rattle off all the reasons why we should love our bark-covered friends:

  • The net cooling effect of a healthy tree equals that of 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day
  • If trees were planted along all city streets, they could potentially absorb as much as 33 million tons of CO2 pollution every year.
  • Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a residential property's value.
  • Research shows visual exposure to trees can significantly reduce stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension.

"I am proud to be known as a tree hugger," said Wilson. "I know that was a pejorative, derogatory label for a while, but I think Americans are turning around on all that.

"They've come to realize that trees are not just naturally beneficial and aesthetically pleasing, they are downright cost-effective," said Wilson. "They give us food; they prevent erosion and flooding; they add value to where they are located - they are cost-effective to have around."