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America in Bloom judges leave Bemidji impressed

After a golf cart ride from the Bemidji Regional Event Center to Paul and Babe and then to Diamond Point Park, Jean Humeniuk, left, points out some of the park's features to America in Bloom judges Diane Clasen and Evelyn Alemanni Monday morning. The judges spent the afternoon with Marcia Larson, Bemidji's parks and recreation director, as they toured all of the city's parks. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

America in Bloom judge Evelyn Alemanni was blown away by what she saw earlier this week.

"You guys have been busy," Alemanni said referring to Bemidji's efforts to beautify its streets, buildings, roads and landscaping. "It's just amazing. It's really remarkable."

America in Bloom judges Alemanni and Diane Clasen toured Bemidji Monday and Tuesday, a trip organized by the Bemidji in Bloom committee.

America in Bloom is a nonprofit organization that promotes city beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.

Their visit to Bemidji this week included a visit to the rainwater gardens along Birchmont Drive and tours of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, Diamond Point Park and the native vegetation along the south shore of Lake Bemidji. They also toured the Carnegie Building and Masonic Temple and visited with the city's sustainability committee.

Five years ago, the same judges toured Bemidji for the first time and rated the city on eight criteria: floral displays, tidiness, landscaped areas, urban forestry, heritage, community involvement, turf and groundcovers and environmental effort.

Has Bemidji come a long way in five years?

"Absolutely," said Alemanni. "The city is much cleaner."

Clasen added she saw a long list of improvements since her last visit to Bemidji.

"Everything is cleaner, tidier and trimmed up. More lawns are mowed, there are fewer weedy areas and cigarette butts, and less litter in general," Clasen said.

Alemanni commented that Bemidji's county administration building was tastefully designed.

"It's really a building that, 50 years from now, Bemidji can look back on and still be proud," Alemanni said. "It was a good design and good planning."

While both judges saw vast improvements, Alemanni noted Bemidji could improve on its tree health.

"Trees need to be looked after," Alemanni said. "Some of it is climate, but the other piece is education and working with property owners to make sure trees are properly cared for."

Alemanni commented that some of the city's trees could be considered hazards because of old age or a lack of pruning.

"When branches die over winter, they need to be cut off," she said. "You have a lot of wind here in Bemidji. Those dead branches are really a danger to cars and people."

Alemanni and Clasen said they will submit a detailed evaluation of Bemidji's beautification efforts to the Bemidji in Bloom Committee by Oct. 3.

"We try to make suggestions that are appropriate for Bemidji's climate, population, demographics and financial capabilities," Alemanni said. "We try to make sure they are reasonable and doable."

Clasen said even though Bemidji in America in Bloom as a non-competitor, the judges' evaluation will help the city track its progress.

"For a city this size to make that many changes in five years is really commendable," Alemanni said.

Clasen added that their evaluation will give Bemidji an idea of how far it has come in the last five years, which areas have stayed the same and what areas it can improve upon.

Clasen said the main benefit of having communities participate in America in Bloom is the positive effect it has on local economies.

"As you tidy up an area, you'll find the people and businesses begin to take better care of their property," Clasen said. "People will consider moving their business to or retiring in a community that is more attractive and well taken care of."

Alemanni added, "I want to congratulate everybody who worked so hard on the all the wonderful positive changes. It's monumental what's been done here."