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A hops vine hangs down the side of Manitou Springs Elementary School on Friday, October 30, 2015. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

Manitou Springs • Students in Manitou Springs School District 14 soon could be testing their green-thumb skills.

At a biannual meeting Monday night between the City Council and school board members, Mayor Ken Jaray said he’d like to see students participate in an idea the council is taking up: a tree-planting program.

Involving children from the district “makes for a stronger pitch,” Jaray told the D-14 school board.

“It allows us to reach down to youth, which is what we really need to do,” he said.

It sounds like a sensible match, several school board members said.

“This is a good thing for kids to be involved in,” member Steve Weimer said. “It’s a good learning experience.”

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Board member Natalie Johnson, who has served on the District Sustainability Plan Committee, said she thinks “It would be a easy fit for us.”

In addition to the school district, other groups are being asked to join a public-private partnership to launch the initiative, such as the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, Green Cities Coalition and the forestry service.

Tree planting is identified in the draft proposal as “a proven practice” to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations.

“Introducing families to an annual local tree planting can have long-standing impacts on both the family and the environment,” it states.

Planting a diverse sample of bare-root trees would occur in the fall, in locations city arborist Aly McAlexander and City Councilwoman and permaculture expert Becky Elder select.

If the City Council approves the proposal, 147 trees would go in the ground in October and November.

The number marks the age of the historic tourist town, which abuts Colorado Springs to the west. The estimated cost for this first year is $2,500 to $3,000.

The number of trees planted would increase by one each year.

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The project would also help celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary in 2022, leaders said.

Jaray said the city also is applying for Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. Colorado Springs has received the designation for 42 years — since the program started in 1976 —making it Colorado’s longest-running Tree City USA community.

Recipients achieve the status by meeting four standards of sound urban forestry management: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day.

Jaray envisions an offshoot family tree-planting component and perhaps other school districts in the area taking up a similar initiative.

School board members said they would discuss backing the proposal at a future meeting.

Jaray said the City Council likely will vote on the matter in September.

“Planting trees and urban forestation is really important,” Jaray said, “and it can make a difference.”

For the past 18 months, Manitou Springs city leaders have been working toward establishing an ordinance that would mandate “a commitment to a sustainable environment and an ambitious response to climate change.”

The draft ordinance contains 14 strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect animals, insects and plants, monitor climate change indicators and develop environmental sustainability.

The tree planting program is one of the actions under consideration.

Others include:

• Increasing pollinator plants on city and private property;

• Studying and improving food security;

• Eliminating single-use plastic and Styrofoam by the end of 2020;

• Establishing a hazardous waste disposal program;

• Adopting a “green business” program for water conservation, energy efficiency and waste reduction;

• Monitoring creeks for water quality and habitat protection;

• Adopting requirements for new construction and redevelopment addressing low environmental impacts, permeable surfaces and green-building standards;

• Starting a municipal composting program by the end of 2025; and

• Improving alternative transportation.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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