Growing up in Ogden, Lorna Vogt had a favorite old apricot tree that she climbed every summer when she wanted to hide from her siblings, spy on her neighbors or just get away.

"On a hot day, there was no better place to be than in the shady canopy of that tree," says Lorna, now 50, who loved idling away the hours watching birds fly from limb to limb in her family's small orchard. "There's just something peaceful about lying back to look up at the sky through all those leaves."

Lorna knows a thing or two about the benefits of trees. As the open spaces manager for Salt Lake County, she oversees the new Million Trees program started by Mayor Peter Corroon last fall with the goal of adding a million more trees to the Salt Lake Valley by 2017.

Earth Day and Arbor Day are coming up next week, so Lorna thought it was a good time to get together for a Free Lunch chat to encourage everyone to get out their shovels and start planting.

With only a few thousand new trees officially counted since the program started, "we have a ways to go, but we can do it," says Lorna. In fact, she says, there's really no reason to stop at one million. How about two million trees? How about three million?

"We could turn the entire county into a beautiful, urban canopy with all the wonderful extras that trees provide," she says. Besides offering shade and cooling our concrete and metal landscape, trees absorb pollution, capture water and buffer wind. Studies also show that tree-lined neighborhoods are less prone to crime, says Lorna.

"People are more likely to take pride in their property when they have a few lovely trees in their yard," she says. "In some cities, like Los Angeles, fruit trees are given to people to plant in low-income neighborhoods. It's a win-win all around."

At some point, Lorna would like to start a similar giveaway program for Salt Lake County's impoverished neighborhoods. For now, she's simply hoping that everyone with a few extra dollars in their pockets will pick up a small tree or two at the nursery and look for a perfect planting spot on a sunny day.

To reach the one million mark, about 275 trees would have to be planted in the county every day for the next nine years. Sound impossible? Lorna doesn't think so.

"We have every city in the county on board, now we need to get the residents behind it," she says. "Our emphasis is the right tree in the right place." In other words, don't plant a giant sycamore in a skinny parking strip or a cluster of thirsty alpine aspens in your drought-tolerant back yard.

Lorna dreams of planting a giant sequoia or redwood someday, but she knows it's not feasible in a small yard filled with dwarf plum and cherry trees.

"Whatever you plant, it's an investment in the future," she says. "It takes a long time to grow a tree, so if you plant one tomorrow for your kids, their kids or grandkids will be able to enjoy it 50 years from now."

Keep that in mind as we head into late spring with 2,500 trees now establishing new roots and only 997,500 to go. "Are you ready?" asks Lorna.

Start digging.

Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to [email protected]. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.