CARTHAGE, Mo. — Two professional volunteer advisers from the America in Bloom national awards program visited Carthage this week for a tour by Vision Carthage to see the aesthetics the city has to offer.
Advisers Cheryl Corson and Tim France on Monday and Tuesday were greeted with open arms from the community and members of Vision Carthage, a committee whose mission is to promote the revitalization and beautification of Carthage through volunteerism, partnerships, community and business engagement.
The officials toured the Jasper County Courthouse, City Hall, the downtown historic district, Route 66, the parks, community gardens, historic homes, the Civil War museum, Red Oak and other destinations. Carthage will receive a detailed written evaluation later this year from the advisers citing strengths and opportunities for improvement.
“It’s been really nice to have two people from outside of the community come and see how amazing Carthage is, but they also give us some great ideas from a fresh perspective,” said Abi Almandinger, executive director of Vision Carthage. “They use their expertise and their strengths to give us strategies and new ideas that we can implement to make the community better.”
America in Bloom is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting nationwide beautification programs and personal and community involvement through the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. The organization provides educational programs, resources and the challenge of friendly competition between participating communities across the country.
Advisers focus on seven key areas during their evaluations: community vitality, flowers, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, celebrating heritage and overall impression.
Corson, who specializes in landscape architecture, said the historic Phelps house was a memorable experience for her and a Carthage landmark.
“I’ve never seen a historic home quite that beautifully preserved, and it has so many architectural details,” she said. “It was really great. Central Park is a real gem that stands to become even more so in the coming years.”
France, who specializes in horticulture, said he was blown away by the city’s park systems.
“We’ve been to all of the parks, and the plan that they have is going to be great,” he said.
Corson said this year, they’re visiting communities of similar sizes across the United States, including Dyer, Indiana, and Westchester, Illinois. The city of Carthage has a population of about 15,000.
Input from their evaluations will be shared at the annual America in Bloom Symposium and Awards Celebration from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 in St. Louis. Corson described America in Bloom as an intersection of the worlds of landscape architecture, community development, historic preservation, horticulture, nonprofit management, and tourism and development.
“What’s so great about America in Bloom is that communities of similar size and often similar resource bases get to share ideas amongst themselves,” Corson said. “We’re ambassadors for the program, and each of us have complimentary and different expertise areas. We make note of particular successes in the communities that we visit and we write a report that gets shared later in the season. Representatives from AIB and the communities come together for an annual symposium where they share ideas. It’s really inspirational.”
Almandinger said when Vision Carthage members attended the symposium for the first time in 2019, they were able to take beautification ideas back to the community and tailor them to meet the city’s needs.
“Otherwise, we wouldn’t have known where to start with the beautification on a communitywide level,” she said. “America in Bloom has been very instrumental and impactful for us, as a whole.”
This will be the third time advisers, formerly called judges, with America in Bloom have visited and evaluated Carthage. Corson said it’s valuable when communities participate in subsequent years because their progress can be tracked.
Almandinger said Vision Carthage will use the information from the report and will choose what areas to focus on next year.
“We’re super appreciative of the whole program, and we love when the advisers come and get to know our community and see the projects that we’re working on,” she said.
Last year, Carthage won the Urban Forestry Outstanding Achievement Award and the Best Tree Canopy Award from America in Bloom.
To date, more than 275 communities from 43 states have participated in the America in Bloom program, and more than 22 million people have been touched by it. Awards will be announced at the symposium this fall.