“Love is like a tree, it grows of its own accord, it puts down deep roots into our whole being.”
― Victor Hugo
History of the Oak Ridge Tree Project
We have been working with Oak Ridge Cemetery on their tree program since 1991, through an ongoing pro-bono arrangement formally approved by the Springfield City Council that facilitated volunteer assistance in establishing a tree nursery on the grounds and donation of more than 700 trees over many years. One of our most notable accomplishments was to have the site included in the national Living Memorials Project formed by the Federal Government following the attack of 11 September 2001.
A few years later, in response to the Springfield Area Arts Council’s annual grant offering, representatives from Starhill Forest Arboretum, the Lincoln Monument Association, Massie-Massie Associates, the Illinois State Historical Society, and Oak Ridge Cemetery met in 2013 to discuss ideas for that grant. Although we did not receive the grant, we still established the Oak Ridge Cemetery Memorial Day event for 2014. That first step, called the Spirited Stroll, took place in the area surrounding Lincoln Tomb. It included notable speakers, the Springfield Municipal Band, ice cream and cake, and a tour of special and historic trees. We had a great turnout which gave us the confidence to continue the program with a 2015 tour in the original part of Oak Ridge, incorporating some of the botanically inspired monuments as well as living trees. Since then our tours have explored many areas of the cemetery.
Over the years we have pared down the tours to focus primarily upon the beautiful, historic, and rare trees in each area. We covered the trees in the Monument Avenue entrance area in 2016, with the castle-like office, the historic Abbey, and the Mausoleum. Our 2017 tour featured the state war memorials and many of the trees around them, including rare species, dedicated trees, and a state champion tree. We included military guides who had been directly involved with constructing each of the monuments there. In 2018 we presented the “Bicentennial Tour” in the old northeast end of Oak Ridge. This was one of the activities of the 200-year celebration of the State of Illinois in Springfield. We added more tree-stone monuments that year to explain their Victorian significance, and saw the oldest and some of the most notable graves in Oak Ridge. In 2019 we moved to the northwest part of Oak Ridge, which contains some of the most spectacular trees on the grounds.
Some of our trees were living when the cemetery began, and others are outstanding examples or very rare, with some known from only a few locations in the world. All of us enjoy introducing the trees to our visitors and explaining each tree’s history and uniqueness. We are a totally voluntary group dedicated to the enhancement of the experience of beautiful Oak Ridge Cemetery, serving as part of the Oak Ridge Cemetery Foundation.
Each year the committee decides on another area of the cemetery to focus upon and we spend an entire year in preparation. Eventually we plan to have highlighted all of the 350-acre cemetery. In each specific area, we tour special trees that are unique in the cemetery or to the region. Often we highlight planted cultivars dating back as far as 1994 and hybrids that are found in almost no other area. Each tree has a volunteer guide to explain the tree’s interesting features and significance on the landscape. Even after the tours are over, visitors can use this web site to tour in their cars or visit each tree to learn about the specifics that were presented during the tours. Trees are clearly marked in maps, by signs, and during the tours by volunteers in green uniform shirts. An official tour can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a half day and you can explore the area further on your own at any time the cemetery is open.
Our guides are well prepared and informative, telling interesting stories about the location or tree. They will use your camera to photograph you with a tree if you wish to remember your visit that way or show others where you have been. During some years we have children’s activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. A special area is dedicated to making the experience of the tree tour enjoyable for the young.
100% Volunteer Organization
This group is a committee of the Oak Ridge Cemetery Foundation. We are operated solely by wonderfully dedicated people who love trees. Many are professional arborists, botanists, educators, or scientists, and they all are lovers of the cemetery and its trees. We have expenses involved with creating and operating our tours, and because of this we rely upon generous donors who enable us to continue this program. Because of the pandemic in 2020, we cancelled the tour that year in favor of a newly constructed website. Our main sponsor for this undertaking is Staab Funeral Homes.
We also offer tree adoptions so you can demonstrate your interest in a certain tree that means something special to you, and your donations help support the program. Adoptions are recorded and frameable certificates are available. We hope that you enjoy this website and whet your appetite for the next tree tour! In addition, please use it to go back in time to see some of the trees shown in previous tours you might have missed, or just to revisit a tour you experienced long ago.
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Our Tree Tours are self-guided. Please see the tours of past years below: