America in Bloom judges to visit Columbia

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | 6:02 p.m. CDT; updated 11:00 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia is ready to step into the spotlight.

The city will get its chance to shine June 22 through 24 when two judges from the America In Bloom national beautification campaign and contest visit to evaluate various aspects of the city.

“Participating in America in Bloom is like having a consultant come in,” said Leigh Britt, volunteer coordinator for the city. “Our main goal this year is to get unbiased third-party feedback on what we are doing well and where we need to improve.”

She said she hoped participation in the program would also highlight volunteer efforts.

Throughout the summer, teams of judges will evaluate 39 cities in 10 population categories. There are three cities in the 50,001-100,000 population category: Columbia, Fayetteville, Ark., and Lafayette, Ind. The judges for this category, Matt Rosen, a retired horticulture manager of the city of Des Moines, Iowa, and July Riley, horticulturist with the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, will visit Columbia early next week.

The judges will have two full days to tour Columbia. The tour will highlight several places that relate to each of the eight America In Bloom criteria: landscaped areas, turf and ground covers, floral displays, tidiness, urban forestry, heritage, community involvement and environmental effort.

“We tried to pick out the unique things in Columbia and pack them into two days,” Britt said.

She listed several stops, including Flat Branch Park, the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant and Shelter Gardens, noting that all of them were great successes for the city. The extensive tour schedule is available on the city’s volunteer Web site.

Mayor Darwin Hindman, who supported bringing the program to Columbia, said the city already had programs in place for many of the criteria.

“When you look at what they want a community to do, we’re already doing it,” Hindman said. “Not in response to the contest, but because the people here want Columbia to be a great place to live.”

Britt also said the city has not made any big changes or done anything different for the judges with the exception of making the public and volunteers aware of the program. City officials started the process of applying to America in Bloom a year ago and included money in the budget to participate in the program.

“We’re using this first year to get a snapshot of what’s going on here,” Britt said. “After we get through this experience and get their feedback, we may participate again in a few years.”

Judges’ observations will be shared at the America In Bloom awards symposium in October in Columbus, Ohio.

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