Trees of Distinction at KSES
by Susan DiBiase
Special to The Jacksonville News
Dwight Roper remembers what it was like when school let out in the afternoons at Kitty Stone Elementary. “My friends and I would get on our bikes and ride right down the sidewalk. There was a line of trees over there, and there used to be a sidewalk next to them. Everybody walked or rode their bikes to school back then. You were expected to.” Roper now maintains the grounds at the school he attended in the 1960s. Time flies, but old friends—and old trees—are not forgotten.

The Jacksonville Garden Club recognizes the group of three oak trees in the Kitty Stone playground as the Trees of Distinction for Fall 2012. The Three Friends are two water oaks and a willow oak, which Tree Commission chairman Kenny Griffin estimates at about 175 years old.

Both species of oaks are long-lived native trees that grow from acorns. They are well-suited to the relatively moist soils of this historic section of Jacksonville. The water oak has a leaf shaped like a duck’s foot, while the willow oak has a graceful long leaf much like that of a willow tree. The Kitty Stone grounds crew has paid special attention to pruning any dead branches that might pose a safety hazard in the playground. Whenever the staff has had to remove old trees that have died, they have planted new trees for the next generation.

Kitty Stone students are very fortunate to have grand old trees in their playground. For well over a century, good foresight and stewardship have protected the valuable large-canopy oaks. Playground trees offer physical, emotional and intellectual benefits to children. Trees provide shade, which is not only cooler, but helps to prevent skin cancer. Much new research has revealed the importance of green spaces in relieving stress and mental fatigue and in promoting creativity and social connections. Dr. Jon Campbell, superintendent of the Jacksonville City Schools, has noticed this effect himself, “It is so relaxing to walk out of the building in the morning and be surrounded with all this green.”

Amber Vickery Russell works for the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department now, and she has happy memories of her days at Kitty Stone in the early 1990s. (The 2003 JHS graduate was in the last class to attend both old and new high school campuses.) Amber remembers being on the playground with her friends and playing hide and seek, “A huge tree by the wall was our home base. We had to go tag that tree!”
© 2012