By Rick Cuddihe

The 4th of July had a special meaning to several members of the Professional Land Care Network (PLANET) this year. In addition to our national holiday celebrating the nation’s independence, it meant packing their bags and traveling to Washington, D.C., to prepare for PLANET’s annual Renewal & Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery.

Renewal & Remembrance is a landscape improvement project that is in its 16th year. Early on Thursday July 5, loaders supplied by Case New Holland, Caterpillar and others began arriving at the cemetery just after dawn and before truckloads of lime totaling about 200,000 pounds showed up. This was the beginning of the volunteer project at the cemetery where more than 400 employees from 82 land care companies worked in 16 teams to aerate and spread lime, fix irrigation systems, and do tree work at Arlington.

Most of the of the volunteers brought equipment such as aerators, tractors and spreaders that allowed the group to accomplish a huge amount of work in a day’s time.
The cemetery and surrounding area was hit by a severe storm the week before and lost several large trees. The cleanup of the downed trees added to the challenge of working on the grounds.

"As I watch the staff of Arlington work through the inclement weather, I’m amazed and humbled as to how it works so diligently and respectfully there in spite of the conditions," says Ed Tucker, turf management specialist, U.S. Army at Arlington National Cemetery. "Watching the PLANET volunteers working under July’s heat and humidity, I see that same diligence and respect."

The most amazing part of this exceptional effort is it was all done by donation of labor, equipment and materials. Some of the PLANET members have been coming in July every year since the event’s inception. It’s truly a labor of love, respect and national pride that also features a children’s program with sons and daughters of PLANET members and suppliers planting flowers at the cemetery visitors center.

Tony Sposato, owner of Sposato Landscape Co., Inc., Milton, Del., said, "We have been participating in Renewal and Remembrance for the past 12 years. It’s a blessing and honor for us to have the opportunity to help beautify the final resting place of those who have fought for our freedoms. We’re excited to bring the Sposato team back in 2013."

The actual work by the volunteers began on Monday, July 9, but preparation by the PLANET champions of each division started much earlier, with a full day’s work on Sunday distributing pallets of lime throughout the cemetery so everything was in place when the volunteer teams arrived early Monday morning. Walter Wray, of Wray Brothers Landscapes, Bethesda, Md., PLANET’s Renewal and Remembrance chairman, worked closely with the administrators at the cemetery to be sure everyone practiced the highest level of respect and reverence while on the grounds. Wray has managed the event for several years.

"We were really pleased once again to see our members’ commitment to service and their display of professionalism," said Sabeena Hickman, PLANET CEO. "Our partnership with Arlington National Cemetery has been very successful over the years and we are happy to have the opportunity to provide volunteer services to enhance such a sacred national landmark.

"We especially want to recognize event chairman Walter Wray for all his hard work on the project over the last few years," said Hickman. "It takes a lot of time to plan and execute the event and we couldn’t do it without our committee volunteers and our industry sponsors."

It’s impossible to visit Arlington National Cemetery without feeling a huge sense of gratitude and thanks to our military service members who paid the highest price so we can be free and independent.

PLANET combines Renewal & Remembrance with its annual Legislative Days on the Hill where contractors visit their elected representative discussing issues of importance to the green industry. It’s a great example of our democratic process in action and provides valuable insight to our congressional leaders on how PLANET green industry members contribute to the benefit of the environment.

Next year’s event planning is already underway and volunteers have their calendars marked for July 22, 2013.

Rick Cuddihe is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer, and he works with landscape contractors to improve their businesses. Contact him at [email protected] 

Photo: Sposato Landscape crew members were among the 400-plus volunteers that spent a very hot July morning dressing up Arlington National Cemetery during PLANET’s 16th annual Renewal & Remembrance.
Photo courtesy of Sposato Landscape Company.