Goal Of America In Bloom Is For Communities To Reach Best Potential

   Interstate 75 is affecting everyone’s travel this summer. Our America in Bloom judges experienced those problems trying to get to Bluffton: it took Leslie Pittenger four hours to get here on the interstate, and Linda Cromer experienced single lane traffic all the way from Greendale, IN.
   Needless to say, when they got here Wednesday night, they were pretty tired, but still took a drive around the community to get a feel for their job over the next two days: evaluating whether or not Bluffton is at its “best potential,” according to Pittenger.
   Both women have helped to improve the economic standing of their own communities through the America in Bloom program.
Pittenger is from Belpre, OH, a town with a park, but no downtown area. She says that America in Bloom helped her community to look to the future and “brought together the volunteers.” When the program started, there were 47 racks of flowers at the park and a walking track.  Since 2012, when she came on board, the community has added trees, benches, and water fountains for people and dogs and has done a tree inventory. The displays have blossomed to 185 containers. With a strong volunteer base and two donated trucks, the community now keeps a line item budget of $10,000 for America in Bloom.
   Cromer hails from Greendale, IN. Like Pittenger’s community, hers has no downtown, but does have seven parks. Her community of 4,400 has participated in the program since 2005 and the America in Bloom volunteers in Greendale, according to Cromer, “have maneuvered ourselves to be such a force that there is a $25,000 line item in the budget.” She says they never use the money “for anything that will disappear.” Instead, they have purchased a Gator, a tree spade, and planters. Having this money available means that they never have to convince people to buy these things. Annual plantings each year – those come from volunteer money, over $5,000 worth.So, these two were well prepared to evaluate Bluffton to determine what the town can do to completely utilize its potential. Their separate pre-inspections highlighted the active development and the light industry in the area. Cromer commented, the “neighborhoods [are] beautifully well kept” and the town has the advantage of a “hook at the university.”
   Additionally, they had received a book on the community that Mayor Augsburger had prepared for them – 60 pages with pictures in color of Small House Bluffton, village recycling and mulching efforts, the Bike and Pedestrian Pathway, the Monarch Way Station, Transition Bluffton, the Town Hall, the Velasquez mural, Swiss Community Historical Society, local historians, downtown flags, the arboretum, and more factors relating to the community as a whole.
   At breakfast on Thursday morning, Susie Stratton, Bluffton, also an America in Bloom judge, noted that Bluffton is part of the Allen County Economic Development Commission and has its own Center for Entrepreneurs. According to Stratton, people come from as far away as 100 miles to visit the Food Store.
   Also at breakfast, Jesse Blackburn related the story of how the community decided to renovate the Town Hall instead of demolishing it and rebuilding it. At that point, the third floor had been closed. In order to renovate, the police department had to relocate to the fire department for the two years that it took to complete the refurbishing.
   At a reception for the judges in the evening, Pittenger explained: “The thing about America in Bloom is, you’re not competing against another community. You’re competing against yourself. So, what Linda and I will be looking for is that you are at your best potential. We’ll give you some suggestions and comments on things that we’ve seen over the years that work in other communities. Some of you will think, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a great idea. How come we never thought of that?’ Some of you will think, ‘Ah, maybe someday.’ And some of you will think ‘Oh, no,’ and that’s OK.”
   She continued, “Even though we’re called America in Bloom, there’s a lot more pieces of the puzzle than just blooming.” That’s where heritage preservation, one of the six criteria to be evaluated, comes in. The other areas of evaluation are floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts and overall impression.
   Pittenger concluded, “The quality of life is what America in Bloom is about. You enhance your community, people want to live there, businesses want to come.”