Just over a year ago, a devastating storm claimed 69 trees in the West Chicago Park District, many of them mature oaks.
But Superintendent of Parks Jesse Felix looked at the situation as an opportunity to redevelop and reconnect with the land.
“Where there was once shade there is now sun, so I took the opportunity to plant flowerbeds in those areas,” Felix says. “We also planted a diverse variety of trees, and reused the wood from the fallen trees.
“Instead of grinding it up to make mulch or bedding, we used it to make planks. The Illinois Institute of Technology also built furniture out of it.”
These projects fall into line with the America in Bloom culture, and Felix hopes to continue to build on that during West Chicago’s first year with the program. He predicts America in Bloom will have a great payoff for area.
“I think it’s a great program to build and beautify the community,” Felix says. “I am a big believer in the benefits of plants to people. Plants and trees allow a renewal of the human spirit – allow people to get away from the day to day. There’s enough bad news out there, and I think you can use the landscape to reflect and get your thoughts in order and focus on what’s really important.”
Felix also cites the ecological, economical and safety benefits of beautification programs like America in Bloom.
“We’re a park district, but for a program like this could be a real economic engine,” he says.
“For communities, there have been many studies that show the positive impacts of plants and trees on crime rates. There are also environmental benefits from the trees, which clean the air and help combat city pollution.”
Like many park superintendents, Felix has a history with plants. His background is in horticulture, which puts him – and any other green industry professional –in a perfect position to lead a program like America in Bloom.
“I think that parks and recreation departments should be in the forefront of this kind of a program,” he says. “It’s a good program, I think, and it’s up to me to put together a good horticultural foundation for it.”
To get started, Felix recommends doing your research before getting involved. He found a lot of good ideas both from searching online and from the judges and participants in the neighboring America in Bloom community of Warrenville, Ill.
Felix also urges those just starting out to be persistent with their efforts.
“People’s time is so different now than what it was years ago,” he says. “But don’t give up on that. Most programs I have ever tried to initiate take about five years to really take root and grow, but it is always well worth the effort.”
West Chicago also hosts a friendly neighborhood competition called Bloom-a-palooza, which invites residents to beautify their porches and the front of their homes.
“It’s such a good thing if you love working with the Earth,” Felix says.
“You can get a true spiritual connection no matter what you believe in. I am a big believer that this was my calling in life.”
The author is a freelance writer in Louisville.