As Diane Berry prepares to hand the reins of the city of Echo to someone else, there will be hundreds of landmarks reminding residents of her years of service: pines, beeches, chestnuts and oaks, to name a few.
Berry, Echo’s city administrator, will retire at the end of April, after nearly 40 years with the city. Throughout her time there, one of her main passions has been bringing more trees into the city, and inspiring a love for trees in the city’s youngest members.
About 30 years ago, Berry said, she and then-mayor Doug Clement had learned that Baker City was the only designated “Tree City” in Eastern Oregon. Cities can receive that designation by meeting four standards, including having a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, a community forest program, and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Berry and Clement proposed the idea to the city council, who applied and got a permit for Echo to become a Tree City.
Berry said this year at Arbor Day, which was on April 18, the city honored Clement by naming a pine tree after him.
“It’s the only original tree left in the park,” she said.
Though Berry has done a lot of work to diversify the types of trees in Echo, the city was an urban forest before that. In 1910, she said, a group of women from the Echo Needlecraft Club got together and raised money to purchase trees to plant in the area.
“At that time, before there were paved streets, some of the streets were sagebrush lined, and they wanted some trees,” she said. “The only trees were along the rivers and streams, cottonwood and alders. They wanted to make it look less like a desert and more like an oasis.”
Because there were limited irrigation systems, the women were confined by what kinds of trees would thrive in such a dry climate. They planted primarily black locusts.
Berry said throughout the years, she and public works superintendent Arnie Neely did a lot of research and traveled to nurseries to see what kinds of trees would be good for the area. They removed the locusts and began to diversify the trees.
“One thing Arnie was very interested in was squirrels,” Berry said. “We found that oak trees could grow in alkaline soil.”
Echo’s George Park, where many of the trees are located, has attracted outside attention, too. A few years ago, Berry said someone from the Oregon Arts Commission came to Echo, to see what kind of public art was already there and what could be added.
“He said the park was like a little piece of art in and of itself,” Berry said. “He suggested we put signs on all the trees.”
She said unfortunately, many of those identifying signs have been stolen by vandals.
Berry said George Park was where the tree program started, and where the Needlecraft Club planted most of the trees. But the city also has an arboretum, near the high school football field, and Fort Henrietta Park.
In the arboretum, they have introduced a variety of trees. One of Berry’s favorites is a tricolor beech tree. That, and a red horse chestnut, were the two finalists when city residents and Echo School students voted to pick the city’s official tree in 2009, for the 20th anniversary of Echo becoming a Tree City. The red horse chestnut won out.
The city has also made the tree fair an annual event for Echo School’s younger students. It evolved from an assembly into a multi-station event, where students visit the park and identify trees, listen to a talk from a Forest Service employee, do a tree-related art project, and read a story.
“When I was a teacher in Echo several years ago, (Berry) came to the school and did a presentation on Tree City USA,” said Echo Mayor Jeannie Hampton. “She came back the next year and handed out items, and people paid attention. Then we decided we wanted to involve the students more.”
“Every year, (Hampton) comes up with ideas for different tree stations,” Berry said.
She said she thinks the next city manager will carry on the tradition of trees.
“I think the community is vested enough,” she said.
Hampton said she hopes Berry will stay involved.
“I joked that we have no excuses now, we’re retired,” she said.
Berry plans to stay in Echo, and will continue to be involved in various volunteer activities, including the tree fair and the Echo museum board.
“I’m a multi-generation Echoite,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have done this job anywhere else.”