For miles en route to Stettler from the Edmonton airport last week, two Communities in Bloom judges marvelled at the colourful and expansive canola fields that dot the Prairie landscape each summer.
“I was busy looking at all the beautiful countryside,” said Steve Preston of Brampton, Ont.
That backdrop set the tone for the international judges’ tour of Stettler last Friday in the company of representatives of the town and the Heartland Beautification Committee.
“We came in through the canola,” said a smiling Evelyn Alemanni of Elfin Forest, Calif.
“My first impression of Stettler was it’s so clean. It’s very well-organized and clean.”
Such cleanliness is one of the considerations in the judging criteria, Preston said. “Wherever you go in town, it’s just spotless. Litter is not an issue with this community, which everybody should be very proud of.”
Already decorated with awards in past Communities in Bloom contests, Stettler has enhanced its case this year with the completion of a downtown streetscape project that not only includes bright and blooming planters, but also a community trademark in railway-designed sidewalks.
“Our main downtown streetscape is probably our focal point, now that it’s reached maturity and is completed,” Lee Penner, the town’s director of parks and leisure services, said during the judges’ daylong tour on a sunny Friday.
“The judges’ reaction is quite positive. You can certainly see when they perk up to the information that’s being given to them. They’re well-studied. They know exactly what they’re looking for.”
Indeed. Communities in Bloom is not an outdoor beauty pageant, so to speak.
“We’re not here to peek in people’s yards and look at their flowers,” Alemanni said with a hearty laugh while touring — and photographing — the Stettler Town and Country Museum.
“(It’s a misconception) because of the name. People think, ‘Well, it’s a flower contest.’
“But we’re looking at heritage preservation — that’s why we’re here at the museum today,” Alemanni said.
“We’re looking at environmental efforts, we’re looking at community involvement, urban forestry, tidiness, landscapes and, of course, flowers. But flowers are just one-sixth of what we’re looking at.”
Town officials briefed the judges on many of those elements during a morning presentation in the council chambers. Afterward, the visitors toured the main street and other Stettler focal points.
Sporting running shoes and casual summer clothing, the judges looked the part of tourists, albeit with notebooks in hand. They went home armed with a mental scrapbook of Stettler images.
“Oh, first of all, the cleanliness (stood out),” Preston said. “Secondly, the new sidewalk concept. Obviously, this history with the railroad seems to be quite prevalent, and to establish it with the sidewalk as a train track motif is really quite unique and very impressive.”
“What a great idea.”
Great ideas are considered a by-product of the town’s involvement in the Communities of Bloom competition, which goes beyond winning awards.
“I think we win by entering and by trying to improve our town,” Penner said.
“The improvements I’ve seen over the years, because we’ve entered the contest, I think are the win. And the plaque on the wall is cool, too, but I think we win because of an improved town.
“A lot of the time, (the judges’) recommendations are right on. A lot of them, we’ve been able to implement over the years. It’s very valuable.”
Alemanni, also a judge for America in Bloom, said it’s evident Stettler has applied many of the innovative ideas inherent with the Communities in Bloom mandate.
“I’m impressed with the investment that (the town) has made in the downtown and the town in general,” she said. “Especially for a town this size.”
Preston and Alemanni are judging the international small category, which covers towns with “small” populations.
“We started a couple of weeks ago in Lakeside, Ohio,” Alemanni said. “From here, we go to Jasper, and then we go to Fogo in Newfoundland and Antigonish in Nova Scotia.
“We get about a five-day break and we’re heading to England. We’ll visit three communities in England, Wales and Ireland.”
The judges are volunteers passionate about what Communities in Bloom represents.
“We get to see towns in a way that most people don’t generally get to see them,” Alemanni said.
“We get to meet with volunteers, councillors, chambers of commerce, visitors’ bureaus, business owners, and they really open up to us and tell us things about the town that you would never find out about any other way.”
It’s a reciprocal relationship with the participating towns.
“It’s almost a free consultation,” Alemanni said.