A new generation has dug its roots into the soil outside Clayton High School. At the school and around town, the newest generation includes five bald cypress trees, 12 crepe myrtles, 12 sunset maples and 16 American hollies.
The Town of Clayton observed N.C. Arbor Day March 18 by planting nearly four dozen trees around town. The annual planting earned the town the Tree City USA designation, handed out by the National Association of State Foresters. Just 86 communities statewide hold the designation.
“When Clayton does Arbor day, we don’t just plant one tree,” Councilman Michael Grannis said in remarks prepared for the ceremony. The cypress trees are along U.S. 70 Business, while the others are from Front Street to Glen Laurel Road.
“Those trees will provide shade to future generations watching baseball or soccer games or when you just need a break from the sun while walking the trail at our newest town park,” Grannis added.
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Views on conservation and environmentalism are often products of their time. One generation’s climate change skepticism could give way to another’s demand for electric cars. Clayton High School’s environmental club helped out with the town’s Arbor Day ceremony and said its mission is to educate a generation of second-nature recyclers.
“Lots of us feel like we’re seeing the consequences of poor choices made by other generations,” said Abby Jacobson, a Clayton High junior and co-president of the environmental club.. “We’re taking action to reverse those consequences.
“It’s pretty simple: We’re making sure trash is picked up and most classrooms have recycling,” she said.
Club sponsor and science teacher Lauren Ramsey said the club does much more than that – it picks up trash along roadsides, takes on landscaping projects around town and organizes Earth Day events.
“This year, their project is improving air quality in classrooms by adding indoor plants,” Ramsey said.
Clayton’s mindset has been outdoors for decades, even if the goal wasn’t necessarily saving the earth.
In 1989, when the Clayton High School football team won the 2A title, it celebrated by planting 22 longleaf pines at Clemmons Educational Forest outside of Clayton. In choosing the fabled state tree instead of a marker of polished wood or marble, the team tied its legacy to something born of the Clayton soil but rising above it like the memories of a 15-0 season.
Michael Huffman was Clemmons’ superintendent in 1989, and his son Adam, a Clayton High graduate, is now a ranger at the forest.
“This was a gravel pit 21 years ago,” Huffman said while standing in the parking lot of his alma mater.
Huffman marks the fifth generation of foresters in his family; in his case, steered to the outdoors, he said, by his father and a distaste for sitting behind desks.
“I couldn’t stand the idea of being stuck inside all day,” Huffman said of abandoning engineering for forestry studies in college. “I just love the outdoors.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson