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DECATUR — On a blustery April day like the one Friday, spending the day on an island might sound pretty nice.

How about on a traffic island? 

About 50 volunteers did just that as part of community clean-up day targeting medians on West Main Street, where they removed litter and leaves and dug spots for plants and mulch. The project, organized by the Beautify Decatur Coalition, is part of a bigger Decatur-wide effort to compete in America In Bloom, a national contest recognizing community beautification efforts.

Aandrea Graham was one of the volunteers with her co-workers from Lowe's, which often has employees volunteering for community events.

“We do different things to help out others,” she said.

Lee Trimble has worked in a garden with her mother, so she understood what she would be doing. She is a student at Richland Community College and lives in Decatur. “I like to be involved in the community,” she said. “It like to feel like I’m part of something.”

Trimble has a rule she repeats to herself. “If I don’t have anything preventing me from saying, 'no,' I should say 'yes,'” she said.

The morning was spent cleaning five islands south of the Millikin Homestead, where volunteers met for instructions and lunch. They were grateful the weather prediction of snow didn’t happen, although the group still braved 40-degree temperatures.

Volunteers were supplied with hand-warmers, tools, chemicals, bags and safety vests. The event was sponsored by Ameren Illinois, Speed Lube, the Andreas Foundation, Hickory Point Bank and Doug Schmalz, former chief financial officer at Archer Daniels Midland Co. Resources came from Lowe’s Home Improvement, Kenney’s Ace Hardware, Jimmy John’s, Millikin University and the Millikin Homestead. 

America In Bloom Chairwoman Ellen Hearn was hoping to plant around 10 plants. “That’s all I had the budget for,” she said. “But now we are really going to be able to remake these islands and they are going to be gorgeous.”

Islands are adopted by organizations and individuals through the city. “They sign paperwork with the city of Decatur indicting they are going to take responsibility for maintaining the islands,” Hearn said. “Which means they’re responsible for removing litter, removing leaves, trimming bushes and watering the plants. It’s as if she owns that piece of property.”

The caretakers have their own preferences as to how the areas should be landscaped, although they are given suggestions for symmetry. The task of taking care of the islands can be overwhelming. They measure approximately 15 by 5 feet. “They can be intimidating,” Hearn said. “Staying ahead of the litter and the weeds was a never-ending chore.”

Adopters include a florist, landscaper, Millikin University, a real estate agent and community members. 

The islands are a focus of the America In Bloom competition. Judges will visit July 19 and 20. They evaluate the city on six criteria, including floral displays, landscaping, urban forestry, historical preservation, environmental efforts and the overall impression. Decatur will be evaluated with communities in a similar size.

The local team has been named Decatur's Celebration of Blooms. Hearn has been encouraging the entire community to get involved for the competition. “The litter has got to be the responsibility of everyone,” she said.

Although the areas have improved, work on the islands isn't done. Volunteers are invited to join the group from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, at the Millikin Homestead, 125 N. Pine St. The groups will continue the work by applying mulch and other plantings.

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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