It's official. Judges from Communities in Bloom will descend on Whitecourt to see the town's beauty on Friday, August 6. The judges that come are from all over the province and are experts in their field. "It's an outsider's professional view on our community. These people aren't just people who decided to be judges. They are horticulturists, silviculturists, and master gardeners. They have been doing this for decades, and this is their profession. This is what they love doing and are passionate about," explained Jeannine Steinke, with Whitecourt's Communities in Bloom committee.
She said that on top of checking out the flowers, shrubbery and landscaping around the community, the judges also provide ideas for future changes. "They see things that we see every day, so we don't necessarily see it properly. When they come in with fresh sets of eyes, they give us this new perspective that educates us. We need to be held accountable for these things because we are stewards of this town. And by we, I mean all of us Whitecourt people."
Judges could notice a tree issue where an area needs replanting because older trees have died off or are dying and without new growth added, the site could end up bare. "There can be consequences if we do something environmentally unsafe. They have the ability to hold us accountable, and they will be heard because they are well respected," explained Steinke.
The last time Whitecourt welcomed in judges, 2017, they gave feedback on areas needing improvement. One concern was a lack of garbage cans. Through community outreach, Steinke said they learned that Centennial Park enthusiasts agreed with the judge's recommendation. "Dog walkers had mentioned that they had to hold their garbage for a long way before finding a place to properly put it and same with people out walking who picked up some garbage."
In response to all the feedback, Communities in Bloom Whitecourt put out more bins. "We placed four along Centennial Trail and one at the entrance of the trail at the Forest Interpretive Centre. We applied for a grant and were able to get the money for it. We did all the legwork to get it going, and we put some of our funding towards it as well," said Steinke. Chelsea Grande, Director of Community Services, said that she is excited to have the judges see all the new initiatives that the community has undertaken since the judges last visited.
On Friday, August 6, the plan is for everyone to hop on a bus and drive around. "We will start around the Kanata area of town and check out the Whitecourt sign and the Forest Interpretive Centre. We will go to the Water Treatment Plant, the spurs, the Community Garden at Rotary Park, Rotary Park itself, Townhall, the Library, the Fire Hall, the Golf Course, up at the Hospital and Memorial Point," to name a few, said Steinke. "We want to do a good tour of the town. They want to see the bones of the community and then see the different tourist areas, infrastructure and initiatives such as recycling." She mentioned that they would also make their way out to the Whitecourt Landfill.
For residents, Steinke said leading up to Friday, August 6, they are asking for the community's cooperation in tidying up. "Cut your laws, clean up garbage, and tidy up the front lawn area. If you have flowerpots, maybe have them at the front instead of the back. If you see something that needs doing around town, contact the Town office and let them know that something is broken or that something needs to be fixed. That goes for all year round too. It's one thing for us to do this for judging, but these are also things we should keep in mind all year."
Of course, bragging rights are fun to have when a community wins the top spot, just as Whitecourt has in the past, but there's even more up for grabs. "The beautiful thing about it is that if you win, you get all this advertising for your town in all sorts of magazines. It piques curiosity on where the community is, and if people live nearby, they might come to check us out. It'll have a little blurb about the town and show the different things we do. It's really good for the town and everybody in it," said Steinke.
Winners can even apply for grants to help with initiatives. "There isn't a cash prize, but there are lots of opportunities for those that win." She said that some winners had held extensive workshops for Communities in Bloom, which meant welcoming a large group into the community. "It brings in people to rent rooms, dine out and shop locally. So, it's a good community project."
The winner of the Provincial title moves on to the National title to compete against all the other Provincial winners. The National winner then moves on to the International competition with countries around the world. Results from the Provincial competition will come out in September once all judging is complete. Steinke said that she and the other volunteers with Communities in Bloom Whitecourt thank everyone in advance for doing their part in helping showcase the town. "It's good for us as neighbours to keep our lawns cut and tidy and our whole town clean."
Education is another component of the competition, and Steinke said that with COVID, most of their workshops didn't run. "We had workshops lined up right before COVID hit. We were supposed to do a huge recycling and garbage workshop, and it fell through, of course. But they will see that we tried and that we are going to continue that."
She said having a clean community is something everyone can play a role in, and the more people who help, the better the outcome. "We may see garbage on the ground as we are walking but, why is it such a bother for us to pick it up and throw it in the next garbage we see? Otherwise, we have to find a huge volunteer group to come and clean, and that's just unnecessary because we are all quite capable of tidying up after ourselves. Even if somebody has made a mistake, we can help them out."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press