By Don Wall
Green Right Now

Super Bowl XLV, which will be played at Cowboys Stadium next February, will bring a lot of green to North Texas, and not just money.  Trees, too.  The NFL Environmental Program kicked off with a tree planting ceremony in Arlington this summer, with the shining new dome of Cowboys Stadium in the background.  By the time the Super Bowl is played, 6,500 trees will have been planted across North Texas in 13 separate tree projects.

Youngsters help plant the first tree outside Cowboys Stadium as part of the NFL's tree-planting program (Photo: NFL)

“Many years from now,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, “After the Super Bowl is only a memory, and the tickets you have in your scrapbooks somewhere have begun to fade and yellow, we’ll still have trees and shade and permanent benefits left behind in the host community, thanks not to the efforts of the NFL, but thanks to the efforts of all the local community groups that joined us in that program.”

The first Live Oak tree planted in June could live for 200 years, a tranquil and beautiful landmark, stabilizing the soil next to the creek, and helping to absorb air pollution.  It was planted with drip irrigation installed by the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department, with help from the Arlington Thunder Pop Warner Football Team, the Super Bowl Host Committee, the Texas Tree Foundation, the Texas Forest Service, and the 12 Super Bowl host cities in North Texas.  Most of the tree planting ceremonies will take place in September and October, when Texas temperatures begin to cool, and the young trees have a greater chance of survival.

The trees will be planted at sites to be determined in the 12 area cities hosting the Super Bowl as part of the NFL’s plans to offset the carbon footprint of the Super Bowl. They’ll be paid for by a partnership between the NFL and the Texas Tree Foundation and a $50,000 grand from the Texas Forest Service, said Betsy Orton, director of development and marketing for the Texas Tree Foundation.

The NFL began linking environmental projects to the Super Bowl in 1993, and the first tree plantings took place six years ago in Jacksonville, Florida.  Since then, more than 25,000 trees have been planted, creating a Trail of Trees.

The tree that was planted in Arlington was donated by Broward County, Florida, host of the previous Super Bowl.  A plaque on a rock features the star logo of Arlington and the sun logo of Broward County.  Leslie Nixon, with the Miami Dolphins, brought a golden shovel that was used to plant the last tree in South Florida and the first tree in North Texas.

Live Oaks, highly prized landscape trees with thick trunks and sprawling canopies, grow throughout the Southern United States.  They are evergreen oaks, staying green or “live” throughout the winter, hence the name.

The NFL Environmental Program begins and ends with trees, but there is more.  The Arlington Thunder youth football players and their cheerleaders joined Groh in the Super Bowl Green Pledge, promising to reduce trash by recycling, save water by turning it off when they brush their teeth, conserve energy by shutting off the lights, the computer, and the TV when not in use, and to eat ice cream in a cone instead of a cup to cut down on litter.

Accounting for Texas’ reputation for doing everything bigger, and the projection of 150,000 visitors coming to North Texas for the Super Bowl, Groh said, “We’ve got some enormous ideas about what we are going to do to try and address the environmental impact of the Super Bowl.”

Those ideas, in addition to the tree planting, include:

  • Recycling and solid waste management at all facilities
  • Using renewable power at the stadium and some events
  • Donating and reusing recovered material, equipment, office supplies and merchandise in the local community
  • Collecting and distributing books and sports supplies through local school districts

Tony Fay, communications director for the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, said the urban forestry project will work with the Slant 45 program, an initiative designed to get school children involved with community service related to the Super Bowl.

“This will give the children in that program a really great opportunity to do something meaningful for the environment, something that will be long lasting and have positive impacts not only on their lives, but the lives of their children in the years to come.”

At the first tree planting, Super Bowl Champion Preston Pearson, who played for the Dallas Cowboys between 1975-80, showed the children his ring, saying, “It is very important that young folks and kids get involved in this particular manner.  As you all know what’s going on down in the Gulf, the environment is at stake.  To get started this way with long term items, like trees, that’s a great start.”

(Don Wall is an award-winning TV reporter/producer/writer, who has covered science and the environment for more than 30 years.)

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