BELPRE - The Belpre in Bloom program received accolades last weekend as representatives attended the annual America in Bloom Educational Symposium and Awards Program in Orlando, Fla.
"It was a great weekend, but the best part was being given the Outstanding Achievement award for our community involvement," said Leslie Pittenger, program coordinator and Belpre city auditor. "America in Bloom couldn't have given us a better award because of all of community groups and individuals who helped Belpre in Bloom this year."
This was the second year for the program, which encourages beautification and cleanup projects throughout the city, not just planting flowers.
Belpre in Bloom is the local community volunteer effort and is part of the umbrella program of America in Bloom.
For this year civic organizations volunteered, including church groups, the Belpre Woman's Club, Belpre Garden Club, Belpre Rotary Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops.
Pittenger said she is most proud of this award because it was the only Outstanding Achievement award given to any of the 26 communities from 19 states.
"The volunteers this year have just been great and this award is a testament to their hard work," Pittenger said. "To have received the only award of its kind this year is fantastic."
The local program improved enough to have been given an increase in its overall blooms rating.
The rating is based on the national program's judging criteria and judges' reports based on the local program's efforts in management, planning, maintenance, improvement and innovation of floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, heritage preservation and overall impressions.
Belpre was toured in June by judges Evelyn Alemanni and Billy Butterfield, who spent two days in the city meeting community leaders and members while inspecting the projects.
Last year's program received 638 points for a three bloom rating. This year's projects accrued 767.5 points from the judges for the increase in rating. There are a total 1,000 possible points and five blooms.
"This allows us to see where our weaknesses are and what we can improve on for next year," Pittenger said. "I was very pleased with the more than 100 points we gained."
Of those five criteria, Pittenger said she believes the Belpre in Bloom committee can put more work into environmental efforts and historical preservation.
"There are things and projects we can do to make our environment better so I expect next year we will focus on recycling, reusing and other environmentally friendly things," she said.
As for historical preservation, Pittenger acknowledged the historical society and others do a wonderful job.
"There are a lot of opportunities in Belpre to expand our historical preservation," she said. "I think Belpre in Bloom can work with the Belpre Historical Society and get more done."
Not only does the America in Bloom symposium allow for participating cities to see where their strengths and weaknesses are, but it also allows representatives from each program to talk to others and get ideas for their city.
"From talking to those from other cities we were able to get some ideas of things for next year's Belpre in Bloom projects," Pittenger said. "It is a nice thing the America in Bloom organizers do, to allow us to sit down and talk with representatives from other cities to not only bring camaraderie, but also creativity and thought."
For the symposium, Pittenger was joined by Joyce Lorentz, wife of Mayor Mike Lorentz; Belpre in Bloom member Loran Conley and Jon Neff, manager of Bob's Market in Belpre.
Although the city competes against the other more than 20 communities participating in America in Bloom, Pittenger said the awards do not represent how much better one municipality's program is than another city's projects.
"We are not competing against the other communities; we are competing against ourselves to be better each year," she said. "We are doing well, so far."