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Kelso looks to join subset of nonprofit America in Bloom to beautify city | Local

Castle Rock has been beautifying its streets for the last decade through a national nonprofit called America in Bloom. Now Kelso is working to follow suit.

The Kelso Business and Community Association has spent the last year laying the groundwork to launch. Unofficially known as Kelso in Bloom, the program will organize efforts by the city, local businesses and volunteers to improve the city’s appearance with projects like planting flowers.

Later this summer the association plans to officially file to participate in Growing Vibrant Communities, a spin-off program of America in Bloom that helps cities assess their current beautification efforts and plan improvements.

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“This program works, it worked for our neighbors to the north. Why reinvent the wheel?” said Lindsey Cope, president of the Kelso Business and Community Association.

Cope said she’d been considering a program like Kelso in Bloom since 2018 through her work with the Cowlitz Economic Development Committee. The committee had no programs focused on Kelso at the time and the city’s downtown association had dissolved, so she began reaching out to local businesses and community advocates.

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Tracy Laurinat, co-owner of Stripper Antiques, said he and his business partner have been doing their part to keep up the appearances of Allen Street for years, including tending to the flowers in Veterans Park and cleaning trash off the sidewalks on the Peter Crawford Bridge.

“We’re grateful to have a business in Kelso and when we have time, we try to keep it beautiful,” Laurinat said.

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For the last decade, The Stripper Antiques owner Tracy Laurinat has planted flowers on city property across the street from his Allen Street b…

In 2019, America in Bloom launched Growing Vibrant Communities to help interested cities get on track for participating in the nonprofit that hosts competitions. The program offers cities self-assessments on seven areas related to beautification, from flowers and landscaping to pieces of “community vitality” including community centers and places for outdoor recreation.

Growing Vibrant Communities also provides each city with an adviser dedicated to working with their efforts over the next year and resource books of ideas that worked for other cities.

Some of the improvements made for Kelso in Bloom are already visible. The association bought banners advertising downtown Kelso that hang from city light poles. More than 30 concrete planters are outside stores throughout the city, nearly all of which are actively in use.

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“It makes sense that people would move to the town where people are proud to be from there, where they are active participants in making it pretty and making it feel like home,” Cope said.

Cope and other Kelso in Bloom organizers have been talking with members of the Castle Rock Bloom Team about their experiences with the program. Castle Rock won multiple awards from America in Bloom for its flower displays and the “people’s choice” video contest.

“I’ve talked to a lot of communities about this and the message is the same,” Bloom Team leader Nancy Chennault said. “It’s the best investment in your community that you could ever make.”

The Kelso Business and Community Association needs to be approved as a nonprofit by Washington state before it can officially run the program. Cope said making it a standalone nonprofit instead of a sub-project for the county Economic Development Council will help the association directly manage future fundraisers. Cope said she expects the approval to come through later this summer.

Once the city officially files as a Growing Vibrant Community, the Kelso Business and Community Association plans to ramp up its outreach efforts to other organizations. A goal of Cope’s is to get the Kelso School District involved with growing and caring for flowers, similar to the arrangement Castle Rock has with its high school.

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