Aspen, a city named for a tree, goes big on Arbor Day |

Aspen, a city named for a tree, goes big on Arbor Day

These trees planted at Rubey Park are part of an underground root system known as silva cells that foster growth in an urban environment.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times file photo

This Saturday, the city will celebrate Aspen Arbor Day at Paepcke Park from 9 a.m.-noon — the 31st year of these celebrations since being designated a Tree City USA city.

Festivities will include informative exhibits, activities for kids and families, raffle prizes, bucket truck rides, hot dogs/drinks, and the much-anticipated tree giveaway at 10:30 a.m. 

In 2022, the city gave away over 100 trees, and plans to do so again. This year’s giveaway will include maple, linden, aspen, chokecherry, and hawthorne.

Spring in full bloom as Aspen celebrates Arbor Day.
Julie Bielenberg/Aspen Times

Aspen Arbor Guide

The city will also be distributing hard copies of the new and improved Aspen Arbor Guide, which helps educate individuals on healthy trees to plant in the city, as well as healthy tree habits. 

Trees have played a vital role over the past century or so as Aspen transformed from a mining town to the world-class mountain community it has become today. 

“Aspen has come a long way from the days deforestation and degraded rivers to boasting 33% canopy cover and thriving riparian and mountain ecosystems,” City Forester David Coon said. “Today, these precious natural resources provide benefits to everyone.” 

It’s also available in a digital copy (

Coon said, “The key for a healthy urban forest is diversity. That is the goal. That is why we distribute this guide. Use this as a resource, and try something on the list that is not the standard; we want to get the tree diversity.” 

Aspen has come a long way from the days deforestation and degraded rivers to boasting 33 percent canopy cover and thriving riparian and mountain ecosystems,” City Forester David Coon says.
Julie Bielenberg/Aspen Times

The tree canopy 

He said that the city planted 50 trees in Aspen last year.

“Mostly narrowleaf cottonwood, maple, linden, elm, and spruce,” he said. “We really want to stick to native species and also a diversity of species.

“We host a unique urban forest at 8,000 feet elevation,” he said. Aspen is home to about 12,000 trees, the majority of which are native trees: aspen 24%, narrowleaf cottonwood 27%, and spruce 17%.

“At 8,000 feet, we are limited to what we can grow,” he said. “There isn’t a long list of trees that will perform well here, and that is a challenge, but we still need to strive for diversity.”

The city Forestry Department encourages folks to plant other species of trees besides the “big three,” so there is a better diversity in the city forest. This helps the city be less susceptible to large loss of trees from insects or viruses. 

Trees in Aspen provide a host of benefits such as pollution removal, stormwater runoff prevention, and reducing urban heat. Trees cool the air around them – not just with shade but through transpiration where water vapor is released through leaves. Trees also provide a host of social and community benefits.

“With unprecedented climate impacts, many communities that don’t have a good canopy cover are becoming intolerable in terms of extreme heat,” Coon said.

He and the city’s forestry team remove trees each year that are at the end of their life cycle or are structurally unsound.

“Most of our city trees rely on urban irrigation and have been subject to water restrictions the last three summers, so the abundant winter moisture will help the roots tremendously,” he said.

What to avoid planting: “We do need to keep our eyes on the North American ash species, which are susceptible to invasive insects. This has been a problem going on 20 years, and we don’t recommend these ash; instead, try a linden or a hackberry tree,” said Coon. 

So far this year, the emerald ash borer, which is transplanted when firewood from the tree is moved around, has not been detected in Aspen but is on a precaution list. 

Aspen is home to about 12,000 trees.
Julie Bielenberg/Aspen Times

Wildlife and trees

Last year, when Aspen celebrated its 30th year as a Tree City, the featured tree was the aspen. This is a keystone species that helps others survive.

Birds and bears love trees. Bears will climb them. Birds will nest in them. Porcupines will chew the tops of them for their tenderness.

Trees provide a lot of habitats. For example, cottonwoods, located in the riparian zone next to rivers, are essential to birds and insects, and insects that feed the fish in the rivers.  

Feeding and forging elk and deer will eat small saplings and the thin bark of trees, a food source for elk in the winter. 

Butterflies, voles, owls — these creatures all depend on aspen trees for nesting habitats and shelter. 

“Recognizing the profound need we all have for trees, we invite you today to partner with us in the enjoyment and stewardship of Aspen’s community forest. On this 32nd Aspen Arbor Day, we are excited to imagine what the next three decades of trees looks like in Aspen,” said Coon.