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Houlton rec center may soon be surrounded by cherry blossom trees

HOULTON, Maine — The Gentle Memorial Building, home of Houlton’s recreation center, could soon find the aged crab apple trees surrounding it replaced by scenic cherry blossoms. 

Dick Rhoda, an attorney whose practice is based in Houlton, and Marie Carmichael, the director of the Houlton Parks and Recreation Department, made the proposed change at a Houlton Town Council meeting on Nov. 9.

“The cherry blossom tree is a symbol of rebirth,” Rhoda said. “For us at this time it could be two ways. It’s life after the coronavirus, which is a rebirth for everybody. And for us here in Houlton, this is a rebirth of a way of life that we cherish.”

Rhoda, who first moved to Houlton in the 1950s, said the current trees surrounding the building have been there for about the same amount of time as he has. He said the plan is to accept donations to get 17 or 18 trees planted, and estimated the cost to be $75 to $100 for each tree. 

“I think it would be easy enough to find 17 or 18 people in the town, who would be willing to give $75 to have a cherry blossom tree given in memory of somebody,” he said. “I think we would be the only street in the state of Maine, from what I’ve been able to find, that would be lined with cherry blossom trees.” 

“The crab apple trees have been beautiful throughout the years, but they really are a mess,” Carmichael said. “So I think the cherry blossoms would be a beautiful addition to our area there along the Gentle Memorial Building.” 

Town councilors voiced support for the idea, including Councilor Sue Tortello, who suggested that one of the new cherry blossom trees should be planted in memory of Jim Bell, a former town council member who died unexpectedly last June. 

“I think this is an amazing idea, and I want to thank you both very much for coming up with it,” Tortello said. “And I’ll tell you what, I haven’t spent all my money yet, so put me down for at least one tree.” 

Originally from Japan, the cherry blossom tree is well-known for its distinctive pink and white foliage, which blooms in early springtime. Several major U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., contain many cherry blossom trees, which serve as popular attractions during springtime. 

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