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In March, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Community Trees awarded Vernonia’s Michael Calhoun the Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Award for planting a Hiroshima ginkgo peace tree in the community.Courtesy Photo: Michael Calhoun

The following article is from the Columbia County Spotlight.
Learn more or listen to the article by visiting their website.

“Vernonia is now home to a tree derived from one that survived an atomic bombing.

In March, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Community Trees awarded Vernonia’s Michael Calhoun the Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Award for planting a Hiroshima gingko peace tree in the community.

Calhoun, who chairs the Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District and Watershed Council, became interested in planting a peace tree in Vernonia after learning about Hideko Tamura-Snider’s efforts to spread them across Oregon to commemorate World War Two.

The ginkgo trees are the progeny of trees that survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan. The trees have become a symbol of resilience and a peaceful relationship between Japan and the United States.

“I thought it was a really great story about peace, resiliency, and especially for Vernonia,” Calhoun said. “My experience with Vernonia is there’s a spirit of resiliency here. So I thought that there was a shared connection between what this tree was about.”

Oregon Department of Forestry employee Jim Gersbach, who worked with Tamura-Snider on the tree project in the past, and former department employee Kristin Ramstad nominated Calhoun for taking the initiative on the project.

Oregon Community Trees and the Oregon Department of Forestry have given the award out for three decades to individuals, communities, and organizations who "demonstrate outstanding accomplishments and leadership in urban and community forestry," according to Calhoun's award letter. 

“I’m proud of what the Vernonia community has given to me to be able to be involved,” Calhoun said. “I enjoy giving back to the community. I think Vernonia has a really special story to share, and hopefully, others can take away from that and get involved in their community.”

Calhoun reached out to Tamura-Snyder in January 2021, but getting the tree to Vernonia involved a lot of conversations.

Calhoun said the city had to plant the tree where it could grow and wouldn’t affect other trees, away from flood zones and protected from deer.

"I assured people that it was a resilient tree," he said. "It did survive an atomic blast, so it's a hardy species."

Finally, in April 2022, the city planted the peace tree at Ora Bolemeier Park.

The city held a dedication ceremony in August 2022 with a Consular Office of Japan representative.

“Everyone had a chance to water the tree, so everyone had a personal connection to it,” Calhoun said.

People can visit the tree in Ora Bolemeier Park, though an approximately 4-foot fence surrounds it to keep deer away.

The tree is not much taller than a foot now, Calhoun said.

“It’ll grow, of course, but the first few years are really important,” he said. “especially with droughts happening more and more during the summer. So, the first few summers, we’re diligent about watering it (and) keeping the deer away.”

If people visit the tree, they will see a dedication plaque with a QR code directing park-goers to a page about the Hiroshima peace tree program.

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