Darlene Kalawsky says, “Communities in Bloom is not necessarily about flowers, it’s about community engagement.”

Darlene Kalawsky says, “Communities in Bloom is not necessarily about flowers, it’s about community engagement.”

Spruce up Castegar, we’re being judged!

Communities in Bloom officials review everything from littering to city’s environmental policies

Castlegar homeowners, get out your weed whackers. Company’s coming, and they’re very judgmental.

“It’s always like getting ready for a wedding,” says Darlene Kalawsky, the head of Castlegar’s Community in Bloom committee. “You have plans, you have changes to those plans.

“But yes, we are in the zone, we are going to be ready.”

In just a few days, judges from the Community in Bloom contest will arrive in Castlegar to do a white-glove inspection of the town.

Communities in Bloom describes itself as “fostering civic pride, environmental responsibility, beautification and to improving quality of life through community participation and a national challenge.”

“Communities in Bloom is not necessarily about flowers,” says Kalawsky. “It’s about community engagement. It’s about presence, about having people realizing how much better they can make their community by doing something extra special.”

It’s also a massive undertaking. Castlegar first joined the program in 2004, slowly working its way up through the rankings, until it reached a high point in 2014 when it won the international-level competition for communities its size.

The judges — ours arrive on July 23, and stay for two days — review everything from flower beds to how well a community preserves its local heritage, how it fits into and protects the environment, and how engaged the citizenry is in promoting community pride.

“Communities in Bloom is really about how active your community is, in terms of engaging volunteers, working with the municipality and working with local businesses,” she says. “That’s really a key part of the program.”

The construction on Columbia Avenue won’t affect the city’s scoring, says Kalawsky. Judges understand such projects have to be done, and they’ll be meeting with officials from City Hall to find out how the road work fits into Castlegar’s larger development plans.

What does keep Kalawsky awake in the middle of the night these days, however, is the condition of local parks — they’re working with public works to ensure they’re ship-shape — and littering. Last year, the city lost points from the judges because there was a bit too much evidence that residents are litterbugs.

“So we’ve been really promoting anti-litter this year, that’s been one of the key things,” she says. “Because the judges last year had noted that we could use more of a public presence for putting this out to the public, and engaging them in that process.”

That means they’ve set up programs like “Adopt a Road” this year, and getting people involved in keeping the city clean.

And on the plus side, Kalawsky says they’ll be showing off the Doukhobour heritage museum, downtown renewal, recreation facilities and skateboard park, among other things. She says Communities in Bloom has really helped build civic pride in Castlegar.

“We’re in a competitive program, but we have the pride of knowing our community is slowly getting better,” she says. “Compared to where we were 14 years ago, to where we are now, I think we have made great strides.”

Castlegar will be competing in the ‘small community’ category against B.C.’s Ashcroft and Trail, and Kinistino, Saskatchewan.

The judge’s results will be announced at a ceremony in Strathcona, Alberta in September.

While city crews are busy getting the large public spaces spruced up, Kalawsky says every citizen can play a part.

“I would suggest they weed-whack if they have grass, tidy up your space, residential or business-wise. That would be a great help,” she says. “Because we are going all over, we’re not just going to Columbia Avenue, we’re going into residential areas.

“When you’re out walking your dog, take a bag and pick up litter. These are the things, weed whacking, tidying up your business fronts, sweeping up the sidewalk, washing the sidewalk, that sort of thing would be a great help.

“Because that’s curb appeal, and when judges come into the community, that’s what they see, that people care.”