DECATUR — Since the Beautify Decatur Coalition was formed six years ago, community members have pulled together to create litter-free zones, reward attractive businesses through the Keep Decatur Bee-utiful Contest and spruce up downtown with larger planters.
Now, residents, businesses and groups will have an opportunity to showcase Decatur's efforts on a national stage.
During a press conference at the Scovill Zoo gazebo Thursday morning, members of the Beautify Decatur Coalition announced Decatur's acceptance into the America in Bloom contest, which was established in 2001 and encourages community building.
Although other Central Illinois communities have entered the contest, this marks Decatur's first attempt.
“It's about time we did it and see what we can bring home,” said Ellen Hearn, co-chairperson of Decatur's Celebration of Blooms, the local slogan.
Hearn described the contest as a community event. She suggested people gather groups from their churches, businesses and clubs to for the contest. They are encouraged to participate in the Adopt-A-Street program, help others in their communities who are less advantaged and enhance their own homes and curb appeal.
Participating communities will receive a professional written evaluation from the judges that includes observations and suggestions. Communities can use the evaluation as a road map for future projects, according to the national contest's website.
Residents can begin preparing for the contest now. Hearn recommends cleaning up trees that have died because of damage from the invasive emerald ash borer insect, eliminating weeds and making other beautification plans.
She has seen how Decatur residents work together on other aesthetic projects, such as the lakefront project and the murals throughout downtown.
Co-chairperson for the coalition Jill Davis said beautification has an impact on the success of a community.
“It is a modest investment that produces long lasting rewards,” she said.
Teri Hammel, executive director of Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said beautification of the community is key to bringing visitors.
She said those visitors sometimes study the area for possible businesses opportunities. “So it can also be economic development,” she said.
The Beautify Decatur Coalition began in 2012 with a focus to simply pick up litter, but its goals have expanded since then.
“We've got the momentum going,” Davis said.
Hearn volunteered for the contest because she has seen similar initiatives transform the community.
“Decatur steps up,” she said, citing community efforts such as food drives, fundraising for United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois and the city's second-place finish in the Hockeyville USA contest two years ago. “We know how to achieve goals.”
America in Bloom judges will be in Decatur sometime in June. Their arrival will be announced in the spring.
They will evaluate the community on six criteria, including floral displays, landscaping, urban forestry, historical preservation, environmental efforts and the overall impression. Decatur will be evaluated with similar sized communities, and a number are chosen for national awards.
In the past, communities have been recognized for their murals, community collaboration, and other annual categories. Hearn believes Decatur has already had positive contributions to the contest, including downtown redevelopment and the multi-million dollar dredging of Lake Decatur.
“We are wanting Decatur to get the recognition we deserve,” Hearn said. “That is possible through this contest.”