Some Adopt-A-Spot beds blossom, while others wilt

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There’s a great spot for reflection and relaxation in the roundabout connecting Bull Run and Port Way drives in east Columbia, and Tina DeClue said you’re welcome to hang out there when you’re looking for a place to clear your head.

“There have been times that I’ve just gone out there and sat under the tree,” said DeClue, who maintains the spot with her husband, Doug Boyer, and 16-year-old son, Braydon Boyer. “It really is a very peaceful place. I don’t know how, because it’s literally in the middle of Holiday Inn and Ashley Furniture.”

DeClue and her family adopted the bed through the Adopt-A-Spot Beautification Program around eight years ago and named it “Growing Hope” as a way to honor those who are suffering.

“For us, it was way more meaningful than just providing green space,” DeClue said. “I get that a lot of people do it because it’s all about making the community look pretty and the green space, which I think is just as important, but for us the meanings are always way deeper than that and different.”

At the Sept. 17 meeting of the Columbia City Council, Neighborhood Services Manager Leigh Kottwitz presented a report detailing the status of the beautification program. Council members asked for the update after hearing complaints about unattractive and obstructive beds.

The program, in its 22nd year, is facing challenges that include volunteer retention and unadopted spots. Those challenges aren’t new, though. The city has limited resources to keep beds in check when adopters come up short on their responsibilities to keep beds weed-free and colorful throughout the growing season.

“When those volunteers are unable to maintain those beds, we really don’t have a Plan B,” Kottwitz said. “We don’t have resources to come in when those volunteers aren’t able, and so that creates a struggle, and certainly staff is aware of that challenge.”

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Available Adopt-A-Spot beds

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters worried about untamed beds that block drivers’ visibility, and Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp encouraged native planting because it’s cheaper.

Kottwitz said her department addresses beds that obstruct traffic immediately. She also favors native planting because it requires less water.

“We want you to know that, (as) a staff, we’re aware of the concerns that some of the beds need attention, so we’re constantly working on this,” Kottwitz told the council. “So, we’re all the time bringing in new volunteers, trying to find ways to take care of those beds that don’t have adopters.”

Council members expressed fondness for the program.

“You do a great job with your volunteers,” Mayor Brian Treece said.

Kottwitz said that whoever fills an open volunteer specialist position will oversee an effort to improve Adopt-A-Spot. She hopes to fill the position by November.

To tackle the challenge of vacant beds, Kottwitz plans to recruit volunteers ahead of next year’s growing season. She wants to reach out to the owners of businesses near unadopted spots.

Neighborhood Services also will continue to use a third-party vendor, currently Columbia Land Care, to work on unadopted beds or beds between adopters.

The city will remove beds from the program if volunteers can’t be found to care for them. Those beds may be turned over to the Missouri Department of Transportation or the Public Works Department’s street division to be planted with native vegetation or xeriscape — landscaping that requires very little water. They might also be filled with concrete. Turf is a last resort.

Kottwitz knows keeping volunteers active is a challenge. Change is expected because lifelong commitment is never realistic. Even though the city reviews and approves volunteers’ plans for their beds, she wants them to feel a sense of ownership.

“We want those volunteers to have a good experience, and so, if they’re coming in and taking care of a bed that has maybe been neglected, that is a difficult challenge for them,” Kottwitz said.

DeClue said Neighborhood Services works hard through various collaborations to help volunteers with planting and maintenance. When she wanted to plant a tree at Growing Hope in memory of her father-in-law, who died from leukemia about a year before she and her family adopted the spot, a city forester got her a tree through a grant.

The result: a willowy catalpa speckled with seed-pods that has quadrupled in size, DeClue said.

“It’s great, because I’m not going to be an expert in everything, and I don’t have to be,” DeClue said.

DeClue is working with Public Works to find a solution for maintaining the four large beds that branch off the roundabout. Stamped concrete is a possibility.

DeClue and her family also work on another bed for her son’s baseball team at Battle High School. The whole team works on the bed in the roundabout at Clark Lane and St. Charles Road three to four times a year. In mid-August, the 32-member team, with help from their families, planted 1,000 bulbs.

“A lot of them had never done that in their life,” DeClue said.

Braydon Boyer said he enjoys the experience and having fun with his teammates.

“It’s just a big, old hangout,” Braydon said. “We get the job done.”

On Sunday, the family will plant spring bulbs such as tulips in the Bull Run roundabout, and they’ll mulch the spot for winter. DeClue is recruiting Braydon’s friends for help and putting the word out on social media.

DeClue checks on the roundabout at least once a week. It now features boulders, greenery and sometimes lilies, roses, lavender and other flowers, but it didn’t start that way. When her family adopted the spot, it looked like “an abandoned yard.”

“It was overgrown. It was literally just a roundabout of weeds,” DeClue said. “It was horrific. It was a challenge.”

If you do make your way to the roundabout, know that you’ll be sitting in mulch or on a boulder. DeClue has considered adding a bench for years but fears someone would steal it, as has happened occasionally at the spot.

People occasionally steal from the bed, and they don’t just pluck petals; they dig up entire plants. DeClue said someone swiped her white gerber daisies last month.

“It used to really upset me when that would happen, but I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve had to change the way I look at it. Maybe they need it more than I do, I guess.”

Feedback comes in the forms of grateful texts, Facebook messages and visits from older neighbors. Curious passersby approach her while she works.

“Every time I’m out there working, I literally meet a new person,” DeClue said. “It’s amazing, the stories I’ve heard from people and what they’ve survived. And I love it.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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