Bloom judge Pittenger hopes to expand reach

BELPRE – Following her first year as an America in Bloom judge, Leslie Pittenger said she hopes to visit more cities in the years to come.

“I will definitely do it again,” said Pittenger, Belpre in Bloom coordinator and Belpre city auditor. “If they ask me to join again next year, I will, without question be a judge again.”

This was Pittenger’s first year as a judge for the national umbrella program America in Bloom, of which she was asked to be one of four new judges this year by one of the two judges who visited Belpre in late June 2013. There were 33 communities in participation this year with more expected next year.

Pittenger visited six communities; four with judge Alex Pearl, who judged the Belpre in Bloom program’s first year in 2012: Venice, Fla.; Calabasas, Calif.; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Madisonville, Ky.; in June, while she worked with Bruce Riggs for tours of Pella, Iowa; and Washington, Mo., in August.

“There were 11 new cities in the America in Bloom program, and I got to visit three of them,” Pittenger said. Those three cities were Venice, Fla.; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Pella, Iowa. “It was interesting to see what these cities had done before they joined the national organization.”

Of the cities she toured, Pittenger said each community had at least one strength that stood out for her.

“In Venice, they had done amazing things in the environmental efforts, while Portsmouth has a strong Main Street USA program, as Calabasas has a very strong floral and landscape program and Madisonville is a coal mining town that is strong on its history with a lot of arts,” she said. “In the second round of tours, Pella is a farming community with a strong Dutch heritage the people celebrate with more than 200,000 tulip bulbs planted annually and Washington has more than 30 large parks.”

Pittenger began her training to be a judge during the annual America in Bloom Educational Symposium and Awards Program in Orlando, Fla., last September. America in Bloom encourages beautification and cleanup projects, not just planting of flowers.

While looked at beautification projects the six cities she judged, Pittenger took notes of those cities’ ideas to use as bases for future Belpre in Bloom projects.

“I saw being a national judge as an opportunity to help Belpre in our future Bloom projects,” she said. “And I got some great ideas.”

Since the Belpre in Bloom beautification project began three years ago, Pittenger said the volunteer group has received more than 90 suggestions for projects and they continue to seek ideas.

“From touring these other cities, I learned that Belpre has floral down and our landscape is not too bad,” she said. “But if we want to move to the next level, we need to focus on our urban forestry and environmental efforts.”

Pittenger said the most difficult part of being an America in Bloom judge was the travel.

“It was kind of exhausting, but a lot of fun,” she said. “The only problem I really had was that in the middle of all of the travel, Belpre was being judged.”

Belpre in Bloom was judged on July 7 and 8 in the population category of 4,500 to 10,000 with four other communities: Brewton, Ala.; Greendale, Ind.; Catskill, N.Y.; and Estes Park, Colo.

As a volunteer judge, Pittenger spent her own money to go on these trips and participate in the program.

All work for the Belpre in Bloom project is done by volunteers individuals and civic organizations while money collected through donations, grants and fundraising events pays for products and items needed for the projects.

To date, more than 220 towns and cities in 41 states have participated in the national program.

Awards will be announced on Oct. 4 at the America in Bloom National Symposium and Awards in Philadelphia, PA.