Tree Huggers Re-Appear in Downtown Iowa City

by Alison Sullivan, Reporter

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By Larry Burkum

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Trees large and small throughout downtown Iowa City received a little love on Sunday from area knitters.

Residents, like Mary Ann Zimmerman and her 10-year-old grandaughter, helped knit "sweaters" (or tree huggers) to cover 136 trees downtown for the Iowa City Downtown District's Tree Hugger project. This is the large-scale public art project's second year.

Project creators, Joni Schrup and Ritu Jain, developed the activity as members of the special event community on the Iowa City Downtown Districts Board of Directors. Both Schrup and Jain said they're delighted to see a huge response once again.

"It's such a wonderful community event," said Schrup, owner of Discerning Eye. "When you look at the people putting up the sweaters, it's community members, friends and family."

Total Tree Care helped with making sure the trees would be safe and Home Ec Workshop helped provide yarn for the tree huggers.

Schrup said this year's event was more organized, with registration available online for those who wanted to participate. She estimated nearly 200 people are participating in this year's project, as decorating the trees can be a group effort or a solo endeavor.

The decorated trees are truly a sight to see. Unsuspecting bystanders watched slightly puzzled as participants tie on their tree huggers, adorned with a variety of patterns, colors and even bells.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Rosie Rohlman, a 77-year-old Michigan resident as she walked through the Pedestrian Mall on the sunny afternoon.

But for Zimmerman and her knitting group, aptly named 'Stitch,' it's a wonderful thing for friends and visitors.

"It really does bring people together," said Zimmerman, as she and several others coordinated to tie the sweater onto their tree.

Last year, the event garnered national attention, making it into several newspapers around the country and mentioned by Midwest Living magazine and on Martha Stewart's blog, Jain said.

Jain said she thinks the community outpouring for the event reflects positively on the city. She said someone visiting from Maryland last year said they were delighted by the art project.

"This is a town that really loves its downtown. That's how it made her feel," Jain said.

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