Annual Santree Fest celebrates trees and community in Santee


Written by Stephen Prendergrast Originally posted here  in the Examiner.

Photo credit: SPrendergast


For the eleventh straight year Santee celebrated its status as a Tree City USA, a designation the city is rightly proud of, and for the eighth year the Santree Fest brought together members of the community to celebrate. Over the years Santree Fest and the earlier Santee Arbor Day Celebration have provided the opportunity for residents to plant hundreds of trees around the city. This year the festival took place at Town Center Community Park East as part of a much larger day of community celebration. Also taking place in the area were the YMCA Healthy Kids Day, the Santee Firefighters April Pools Day and National Dance Day.


“Santree Fest is the City of Santee’s annual celebration of Arbor Day, which we do in association with our National Arbor Day Tree City USA status,” explained Santee Recreation Services Manager Sue Richardson. “Part of the requirements to be a Tree City USA is to hold an Arbor Day celebration. What started about eight years ago as a tree planting along Magnolia with community groups has grown into a larger, almost all-day festival celebrating Earth Day and Arbor Day together.”

View slideshow: Annual Santree Fest celebrates trees and community in Santee

Santee celebrated the annual Santree Fest in recognition of the city’s eleventh year being named a Tree City USA
Photo credit: SPrendergast

This year’s Santree Fest featured continuous entertainment, including Box Canyon Band with toe-tapping bluegrass music. Dancers from the Santee Recreation Program, Expressions Dance and Movement Center, Jean’s Dance Studio and Charlene’s Dance performed in celebration of National Dance Week. A children’s area included inflatables, a Frisbee golf course and other activities. In addition, vendors provided a wide array of foods, goods and services.

With a focus on the environment, the day included the planting of approximately 38 trees along with shrubs and other landscaping around Town Center Community Park East. The San Diego River Park Foundation led a cleanup walk along the nearby San Diego River as part of the I Love a Clean San Diego Creek to Bay Project, collecting trash from the east edge of the park all the way to Cuyamaca Street.

“This is the largest event we have had so far,” said Richardson. “Originally we went from site to site around the city finding locations such as parks and school that needed trees, so we have done them at Mast Park and Cajon Park School. We did one at Rio Seco School on the west side of the Town Center Park and last year we worked on the north side of the park from Cuyamaca along Riverwalk Drive. We are still growing Town Center Community Park, even though the construction was done two years ago. There are still areas that need shade, and as we’ve used the park we wanted to add more shade.”

One of the highlights was the planting of a special tree honoring the fallen members of one of the city’s adopted Marine units, the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines from Camp Pendleton. Santee has also adopted Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 462 from Miramar MCAS. The tree is located near the beginning of the recently completed Marine Memorial Trail that circles the park. Mayor Randy Voepel and representatives from both units were on hand for the dedication.

Photo credit: SPrendergast


“It has been absolutely fantastic,” said recently crowned Miss Santee 2013 Emily Zobel. “We were so honored to meet some of the military who came out to help plant some of our trees. We were told that one tree represents 29 fallen military, so it’s fantastic that we can have that in our city.”

Asked what she enjoyed most about the day, Miss Santee Teen 2013 Melissa Lawrence said, “I like how all the families come together and are friendly with one another. I like all the kiosks and stand they have – it gives you a feel for what is here in Santee.”


One of the more creative and interesting displays at Santree Fest was a collection of woodcarvings done by “Big John” Mahoney of West Coast Arborists. Mahoney is not your average woodcarver – instead of traditional tools he employs a gas-powered chain saw for his artwork. When not carving some of the large sections of trees that come in from the company’s work, Mahoney runs the firewood and furniture divisions at the company’s recycling center.

“A few years ago we caught a guy stealing firewood who was a tiki carver,” Big John explained when asked how he began his artistic career. “We called him out on it and he didn’t admit to it, but a week later he came in and said he couldn’t sleep at night and asked what he could to do make it right. I said, ‘Trade me a chain saw carving lesson and we’ll call it good.’ That was two and a half years ago and I’ve been doing it and having fun ever since.”

For Santree Fest Mahoney carved a tree with “Santree” at the base, but he has also created traditional tiki heads, fish and eagles. His current eagle, the third he has carved, is an amazing work that stands a good five feet tall from wingtip to wingtip.

As part of the entertainment, Expressions Dance and Movement Center, a local dance studio, partnered with the City of Santee and Santree Fest to help celebrate National Dance Week, which runs from April 26 through May 4. In honor of National Dance Day the studio participated in a nationwide dance flash mob performance, joined by local school children who had learned the dance during special assemblies. At the end of the performance the dancers “danced their shoes off” to support the non-profit Project Warm Feet.

The day also gave the City of Santee the opportunity to do a soft kick-off for the new Invest From the Ground Up program, which will be rolled out this next week at the Santee Lakes Green Day at the Lakes celebration on May 4. The new program will encourage Santee residents to plant trees in their easements to provide additional shade throughout the community.

Photo credit: SPrendergast

“We want to promote the value and awareness of trees in the community and to help promote Arbor Day,” Richardson said. “We put up tags that calculate the value of trees to the community. So tree awareness and Earth Day awareness are our main goals for the festival, but part of the Community Services Department’s mission is to bring people together in the community and this is one of our best events.”

With events such as Santree Fest, the annual Santee Celebrates the Fourth and the Summer Concert Series, bringing the community together is something the department does very well.

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