Friday morning a group of dignitaries will plant a hackberry tree alongside a dusty stretch of land out by the Salt Lake International Airport. Jennifer Stevens hopes the tree will grow into a flourishing metaphor.

Stevens is executive director of Project 2000, a non-profit group dedicated to the proposition that the future shouldn't just sneak up on Utah.In a new twist on its goal of planning for the future, Project 2000 wants Utahns to plant for the future, too. The group hopes that the trees will not only help beautify the landscape but will serve as a metaphor about growth:

Plant a tree in 1989 and by the turn of the millenium it will be big enough to provide shade and beauty. Plan a light-rail system now - or an economic development strategy or a network of day-care centers - and you won't be struggling to catch up with the future down the road.

The Project 2000 board, made up of a cross-section of concerned Utah citizens, has designated sites in Salt Lake City, St. George and Moab for the first phase of "Planting for the Future."

"We all know a good first impression can make all the difference," notes Stevens. "Project 2000 couldn't think of a better gift to give the future of Salt Lake City than a tree-lined gateway at Salt Lake International Airport."

Right now that gateway provides more of a cold shoulder than a hearty welcome to new visitors. The planned row of trees, which will border a projected golf course on the site, will offer "a more aesthetic embrace," says Stevens.

Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis will be on hand Friday morning to plant the symbolic hackberry at the site. Although the tree will be dug right back up again to wait for proper irrigation of the area, a dozen or so trees will be planted for keeps next fall.

Trees were also planted in Moab on Wednesday and will be planted in St. George on April 27.

The trees, donated for this first phase by the Utah Nurserymen's Association, are several years old and well past the sapling stage.

Project 2000 hopes now that private citizens will donate money so that the project can expand to other sites.

As part of the kickoff for Planting for the Future, G. Jon Roush of the Nature Conservancy will be the guest speaker Saturday night at a fund-raising dinner for Project 2000.