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SALT LAKE CITY — As Tony Gliot looked at the trees surrounding him at the Salt Lake City Cemetery on Saturday, it was hard not to think of Mark Smith.
Smith, who died from cancer in 2019 at the age of 55, was the cemetery's longest-serving sexton since it was created at the time pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley 174 years ago and officially established in 1851. He'd often remark that "cemeteries are for the living" when talking about the care he put into the cemetery, ensuring that people have a peaceful place to grieve or pay respects to loved ones who have died.
The many trees inside the cemetery, considered by Salt Lake City as an urban forest, were a part of accomplishing that.
"He had an unbelievable appreciation and passion for trees," said Gliot, Salt Lake City's forester. "It was his dream that an arboretum would one day be established on this property that he loved."
Smith's dream was officially realized over the weekend on what would have been his 58th birthday. Salt Lake City leaders gathered at the cemetery Saturday and celebrated the official designation of the arboretum, appropriately named after Smith.
Smith's widow, Julie Fratto-Smith, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall helped unveil a new sign at the cemetery marking the arboretum. A map of the trees in the collection can also be found on the city's website.
The Mark Smith Memorial Arboretum currently includes 80 woody plants, mostly trees, throughout the 122-acre cemetery with plaques identifying the vegetation species. Many of the items in the arboretum are near the Salt Lake City Cemetery Sexton's House, which served as Smith's office for 17 years.
"To have it named in sexton Mark Smith's honor is fitting, as he was a valued public servant who loved the cemetery and its beautiful tree canopy," Mendenhall said.
Per city officials, the Salt Lake City Division of Urban Forestry, which Gliot oversees, began working with ArbNet over the past year to receive formal arboretum accreditation. ArbNet lists over 2,000 accredited arboretums across 35 countries in various locations such as college campuses, zoos and cemeteries.
What's in the Mark Smith Memorial Arboretum now is just the beginning. Gliot said there will be over 100 trees as a part of the collection by the end of next year. He added the number will continue to "grow annually" as the city replants the many cemetery trees lost during the 2020 windstorm.
It's a plan that city officials believe Smith would have championed, especially given how much he loved the cemetery's many trees.
"We're going to continue to plant back trees that were lost here for generations to come," Gliot said. "To see this dream realized on this property and be able to deliver that, not just in (Smith's) memory but for the citizens of this city, it's very meaningful."
Contributing: Sean Moody, KSL-TV