A Hero Of The Ponderosa

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Newcomers to Payson and those who have lived here for years often share a common bond -- they love the trees.

They love the smell of the piney air and the sight of the dark green, timber-covered land.

Just the name, ponderosa, conjures up pictures of the Old West and the legends that grew up around the Rim country.

In Payson, thousands of these trees owe their very lives to one woman, former Town Council member Elaine Drorbaugh.

Drorbaugh has been distributing ponderosa pine seedlings for 11 years and has more to give away.

She also has a continuing hope that the foot-long seedlings she gives residents each year from the Forest Service will replace some of the trees that have been destroyed in town because of development.

"The Forest Service has always planted trees in winter time," she said Wednesday. "They had quite a few left over in 1988 because it had been a dry winter."

Drorbaugh was on the Town Council that year working on a beautification project for Payson.

"We planted trees along Main Street -- it was an Action Arizona contest," she said. "We entered it two years. The first year we got $1,000 and the next year, we won the top award of $10,000.

"We called our project, 'Take Pride in Payson.'"

The Forest Service had a policy of not giving trees to individuals, but after they gave them to the town, Drorbaugh said she and her husband, Walt, took on the job of distribution.

She's been doing it ever since.
"Then it just became a yearly thing," she said. "Every year, when it got too dry in the forest to plant trees, they'd contact the town. When I left the council in 1992, I said I'd continue to distribute them."

Since 1988, there has been only one year that the Forest Service didn't have any trees left over -- that was last year.

Drorbaugh said she hears from people who got their trees in 1988. Some return to get more. Others bring pictures to show her just how well the trees are doing.

Many of the trees that were planted in 1988 are more than 12 feet tall.

"Walt planted 18 thinking that maybe one or two would grow," Drorbaugh said. "I've got a hedge out there now."

Three years ago, Drorbaugh gave 15 of the 18 trees her husband had planted in their front yard to Green Valley Park. They were so big it took a tree mover to transfer them from Drorbaugh's yard to the park.

There are also ponderosa pines around all the schools because of Drorbaugh's efforts.

"When we had this Take Pride in Payson committee in 1988 and 1989, we'd have a program for Arbor Day in April," she said. "The children wrote poems and drew pictures. Everyone who participated was given a little tree to take home. I kept those poems for years -- they were so cute."

Drorbaugh talked about one little boy and a tearful telephone call she got asking for another tree. The boy's dog had eaten his first little tree. Of course, she gave him another.

Both Elaine and Walt Drorbaugh continued the Arbor Day program for a number of years, but when Walt became sick and later died, Elaine discontinued the program.

"There are thousands of trees all over Payson," Drorbaugh said.

One woman went to see Drorbaugh the other day to pick up some trees for her neighbor. The woman had 28 trees of her own that she had planted on her property.

"It makes me feel good to drive around town and see these ponderosas growing," Drorbaugh said.

How to get seedlings
People wishing to pick up ponderosa pine seedlings to plant locally can contact Elaine Drorbaugh at 474-1196 or pick them up from her carport at 410 S. Ash.

"If I'm not here, people can just pick them up," Drorbaugh said Wednesday. "I just had a run on 'em this last weekend -- I couldn't believe it."

Drorbaugh suggests that people picking up trees plant them as soon as possible. They should be kept moist, but should not be put in water. She also suggests that they be provided with shade for the first two weeks after they're planted.

The ponderosa pine seedlings need deep watering once a week and do not depend on fertilizer.

"It helps to put mulch around the base to hold the moisture in," Drorbaugh said.

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