Get Excited About America in Bloom in Bluffton This Summer

by Paula McKibben   “America in Bloom provides a framework for continuous improvements in quality of life through its national awards program and educational offerings,” according to the America in Bloom website. It is a grassroots program, begun in 2001, that makes towns better places to live, nurtures volunteerism, awakens community pride and provides a powerful community building tool.
Susie Stratton has been involved with America in Bloom for five years now, thanks to a gentle nudge from her husband, Steve.
   Then Dr. DeBow Freed, president emeritus of Ohio Northern University, introduced Stratton of Stratton Greenhouses to the concept of campus beautification by indicating that an attractive campus translated into more students because an attractive campus makes a good impression with the parents: “If you take good care of my campus, you’ll take good care of my son or daughter.”
   Acting as interim president for the University of Findlay, he brought this same philosophy with him and asked Stratton and Stratton Greenhouses to help to improve the look of the campus with floral displays. Having been involved with America in Bloom for the previous two years, Stratton believed that this was a perfect platform for showcasing the University of Findlay campus. When Katharine Fell became the new president at Findlay, she continued the program with Stratton Greenhouses. In the first year, The University of Findlay won the environmental award and has since won two beautification awards in Hancock County.
   For the last three years, Stratton has been a judge, evaluating Estes Park, Colorado, and towns in Oregon, New York, Indiana and Ohio. She spends two weeks in July on the road judging and then accumulates another two weeks of time writing the evaluations at home.
   This year the Village of Bluffton will be participating. There is an entrance fee of $1099 (the sliding scale amount for a community of this size), but with the fee, the village receives two judges who attend meetings with organizations that have an impact on the Bluffton Community like town council, the tree commission, the Bluffton Area Chamber of Commerce and others. These two judges also write a 20-30 page evaluation in six categories that provide a guide toward building a stronger, better-looking community.
   The six categories that are judged include floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, heritage preservation and overall impression.
   The definition of floral displays is pretty obvious. It includes flower beds, containers, arrangements, originality, distribution, maintenance and integration of all of these.
   Landscaped areas refer to the design and suitability of landscape, turf and ground covers, including the balance of plants and constructed elements, color, texture and shape. Maintenance, mulching practices and edging are evaluated. Also included here are children’s gardens, public gardens and zoos.
   The distribution, variety and suitability of trees come under the heading of urban forestry. Is there a tree program with written policies? Are trained individuals involved? How frequently are tree surveys done?
   Environmental efforts include the reduction of the carbon footprint, the reduction of all pollution, the use of rain barrels and recycling. The treatment of events such as Earth Day, Recycling Days and other environmentally themed days are also evaluated.
   Historical, natural, agricultural, and cultural – these are the foci of heritage preservation. Here judges evaluate the preservation and restoration of buildings, homes, churches, cemeteries, monuments, parks, museums, farmers’ markets and festivals.
   Finally, overall impression. This is best defined with two terms – cleanliness and maintenance – for public open spaces like bike and walking paths, parks, vacant lots, lamp posts, benches and playgrounds.
   Stratton believes that Bluffton has a lot to gain from an evaluation from an organization that is “one of the best programs in the country for helping communities identify their weaknesses and their strengths.”
   One gain might be a list of projects for Scouts and other organizations to choose from when needing volunteer projects. For instance, last year when I visited the shuffleboard court, I was told that a Scout had volunteered his time to repaint the courts. He did a wonderful job, but what if a plan for painting and beautifying the entire court had been in place? Perhaps other volunteers could have provided some landscaping to the court site.
   Another issue that Stratton brought up was the town’s entrances from I-75. What do we have out there that says, “Come to town. See what we have here.” People coming in on 103 see fast food and gas stations. People coming in on Bentley see a working quarry and industrial equipment.
   Besides suggestions for future projects and improvements from the America in Bloom judges, other benefits are increased civic pride through visible improvements; the joining of different factions in town, for instance the historical group and the garden group, for a single purpose; a decrease in vandalism because the community is well-tended; and the improvement of property values.
   According to the America in Bloom website, mayors have told them that similar reports would have cost them $10,000 from a hired consultant. Comments from the communities include “Fair, thoughtful and packed full of great ideas!! (and practical ideas that we can probably do!!)
   Already reaping the benefits of participation in 2016 are several Ohio communities. Logan won for communities between 5,000-10,000, and Belpre won for overall impression. Gallipolis won the champions category, small, for winning in three or more categories and Ironton for best use of the local bloom committee logo.
   Ironton, at one point a city in decline, joined America in Bloom nine years ago. Since then, Ironton now has a new face to present to tourists. They even have plans for a Riverfront Park to accompany their new bridge and a Furnace Trail.
   The push from America in Bloom has become so important to Greendale, Indiana, that they annually include a line-item budget of $25,000 to incorporate the suggestions they receive in their reports.
   Go to americainbloom.org, view the photos, watch the videos, get excited about what is coming to Bluffton this summer.